The Office of Inspector General (OIG) released its anticipated report on the State Department’s handling of email and cybersecurity. The report covers Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, but also includes an examination of other State employees use of email, including Colin Powell’s use of a private email service.
Almost immediately, the media was full of headlines such as “State Department report slams Clinton email use” from CNN, “State Dept. inspector general report sharply criticizes Clinton’s email practices” from the Washington Post, and “IG: Clinton didn’t want emails ‘accessible'”, from The Hill.
Lost in the hyperbole is the fact that the OIG report was meticulous and thorough, but also dispassionate, just like any other OIG report I’ve read. There was no direct criticism of Clinton, sharp or otherwise. The OIG was examining the State Department’s practices, not specifically investigating Clinton’s actions.
Reading the various media stories on the report, I found other misrepresentations. For instance, The Hill claims that Clinton didn’t want her email to be “accessible”. In actuality, what the report stated was that Clinton didn’t want her personal emails being accessible:
In November 2010, Secretary Clinton and her Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations discussed the fact that Secretary Clinton’s emails to Department employees were not being received. The Deputy Chief of Staff emailed the Secretary that “we should talk about putting you on state email or releasing your email address to the department so you are not going to spam.” In response, the Secretary wrote, “Let’s get separate address or device but I don’t want any risk of the personal being accessible.”
The Washington Post article stated:
The inspector general, in a long awaited review obtained Wednesday by The Washington Post in advance of its publication, found that Clinton’s use of private email for public business was “not an appropriate method” of preserving documents and that her practices failed to comply with department policies meant to ensure that federal record laws are followed.
First of all, a lot of people and organizations got a copy of the report, WaPo. You’re not special.
Secondly, Clinton did take action to preserve her emails, as the report notes. On Page 66 of the report, Janice Jacobs, the State Departments Transparency Coordinator, specifically addressed Clinton’s handling of the emails:
In addition the Department had already received Secretary Clinton’s emails and undertook to release 30,000 of them to the public. The National Archives and Records Administration concluded that our efforts with respect to Secretary Clinton and her senior staff mitigated past problems, as has a federal district court in a suit brought under the Federal Records Act. As you note in your report, you concur with this conclusion. (emph. added)
The State Department, the OIG, and NARA all concurred that Clinton’s actions in turning over the emails she had, in addition to others the State Department was able to discover, did mitigate not following proper procedures (i.e. printing out each email and filing it). It’s true that in the beginning of Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, during the first two months transition period, some emails were lost. However, there was no indication that an attempt was made to deliberately hide these emails from a salivating public: it’s technology; stuff happens.
Lastly, I can almost hear the calls of “criminal Hillary” from a certain party who shall go nameless. Note, though, as the report mentions, there were no administrative penalties in place—either about the use of a private email server, or not following the established procedures for preserving emails—at the time Clinton served as Secretary of State. Moreover, there is no indication that she was even aware of the requirements.
Although the Department is aware of the failure to print and file, the FAM contains no explicit penalties for lack of compliance, and the Department has never proposed discipline against an employee for failure to comply. OIG identified one email exchange occurring shortly before Secretary Clinton joined the Department that demonstrated a reluctance to communicate the requirement to incoming staff. In the exchange, records officials within the Bureau of Administration wondered whether there was an electronic method that could be used to capture the Secretary’s emails because they were “not comfortable” advising the new administration to print and file email records.
State Department personnel were discouraged from using their private email, but not explicitly forbidden from doing so. As quoted in the CNN story—the one where Clinton was purportedly “slammed’ by the OIG—the State Department spokesman concurred:
State Department spokesman Mark Toner briefed reporters Wednesday: “While not necessarily encouraged, there was no prohibition on using personal email. The only requirement is that — and the regulations do state this, that these records need to be preserved.”
To repeat what I wrote earlier, the OIG report was focused on the State Department’s procedures in place for emails; it’s not specifically focused on Clinton. It may be more titillating to say that the OIG is “slamming” Clinton, or that the OIG report was “sharply critical of Clinton”…but it’s also inaccurate, and misleading.