Hillary Clinton spokesman defends her use of personal email account as secretary of state

Hillary Clinton’s spokesman says the former secretary of state did not violate federal records laws by using a personal email account when she was at the State Department.

“Like secretaries of state before her, she used her own email account when engaging with any department officials,” Nick Merrell, Clinton’s spokesman, said in a statement Monday. “For government business, she emailed them on their department accounts, with every expectation they would be retained. When the department asked former secretaries last year for help ensuring their emails were in fact retained, we immediately said yes.”

The statement comes in response to a New York Times report that Clinton did not have a government email address during her four-year tenure as secretary.

Clinton’s aides “took no actions to have her personal emails preserved on department servers at the time, as required by the Federal Records Act,” the Times report said. “It was only two months ago, in response to a new State Department effort to comply with federal record-keeping practices, that Mrs. Clinton’s advisers reviewed tens of thousands of pages of her personal emails and decided which ones to turn over to the State Department.”

According to the Times, 55,000 pages of emails were turned over to the department.

“It is very difficult to conceive of a scenario — short of nuclear winter — where an agency would be justified in allowing its cabinet-level head officer to solely use a private email communications channel for the conduct of government business,” Jason R. Baron, a lawyer at Drinker Biddle & Reath who is a former director of litigation at the National Archives and Records Administration, told the Times.

But the Clinton camp bristled at the notion that it broke any rules.

“Both the letter and spirit of the rules permitted State Department officials to use nongovernment email, as long as appropriate records were preserved,” Merrell said. “As a result of State’s request for our help to make sure they in fact were, that is what happened here.”

A State Department spokesman said the office was in the process of improving its record keeping and has asked all previous secretaries of state “dating back to Madeleine K. Albright to provide it with any records, like emails, from their time in office for preservation.”

“[Hillary Clinton] turned over all of these emails to the archives,” Richard Socarides, former senior adviser to President Bill Clinton, told CNN. “At the end of the day, I think this is a story about nothing.”

The report comes as Clinton is reportedly readying a presidential bid. According to the Wall Street Journal, her candidacy is expected to be announced in April.

Jeb Bush, former Florida governor and likely 2016 Republican presidential candidate, quickly criticized Clinton, tweeting, “Transparency matters.”

“Hillary Clinton should release her emails,” Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said in statement, according to the Tampa Bay Times. “Hopefully she hasn’t already destroyed them. Governor Bush believes transparency is a critical part of public service and of governing.”

It’s not the first time Clinton has been criticized for a lack of transparency.

Just this week, a series of reports raised questions about transparency regarding foreign fundraising by the Clinton Foundation. But the foundation, Merrell said, is more transparent than most.

“Let’s remember why journalists are able to dig through all these records,” he wrote in an email published by Politico. “Because unlike many other similar charities, the foundation voluntarily discloses all of its contributors’ names, right on the Clinton Foundation website. And it refuses to take anonymous contributions. No charity is required to do these, but the Clinton Foundation does it, on its own accord.”

Clinton’s record as secretary of state is expected to be scrutinized during the 2016 campaign, particularly her response to the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012. According to the Times, the existence of Clinton’s personal email account was discovered by the House Select Committee on Benghazi investigating the attack.

According to a Rep. Elijah Cummings, a ranking member of the committee, Clinton turned over her emails relating to Benghazi last month.

“Last month, the committee received Secretary Clinton’s emails relating to Benghazi,” Cummings said in a statement. “And now that we have them, I believe Chairman [Trey] Gowdy should join with me to make them available to the American public so they can read their contents for themselves.”

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