Watchdog: Clinton, top aides did not comply on records policy

Former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPapadopoulos's wife wants him to scrap plea deal with Mueller: report FBI chief: I'm trying to bring 'normalcy' in 'turbulent times' Senate Intel chief slams ex-CIA director for timing of claims about Trump-Russia ties MORE and her senior aides did not comply with the State Department’s record-keeping policies, an internal watchdog determined in a report sent to Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

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By exclusively using a personal email address routed through a private server, Clinton circumvented policies designed to follow federal records laws and might have jeopardized official secrets, the department’s Office of the Inspector General said in a report obtained by The Hill ahead of its official publication on Thursday.

Clinton never requested permission to use the personal server, which was located at her New York home, and it “would not” have been approved, in part, because of “the security risks in doing so,” the watchdog agency wrote.

Additionally, Clinton “never demonstrated” to State Department security officials that her personal server or BlackBerry device “met minimum information security requirements.”

And Clinton’s decision not to use an official email department email address “is not an appropriate method” of preserving emails under the Federal Records Act, the inspector general said in the hotly anticipated 83-page report.

“Therefore, Secretary Clinton should have preserved any federal records she created and received on her personal account by printing and filing those records with the related files in the Office of the Secretary,” it said. “At a minimum, Secretary Clinton should have surrendered all emails dealing with Department business before leaving government service and, because she did not do so, she did not comply with the department’s policies that were implemented in accordance with the Federal Records Act."

The conclusion is damning for Clinton, the likely Democratic presidential nominee, who has faced persistent criticism on multiple fronts for her use of the private server.

However, the report’s criticism extends beyond Clinton, as her campaign was quick to point out. 

The State Department has been plagued with “longstanding, systemic weaknesses” for preserving federal records “that go well beyond the tenure of any one secretary of State,” the report noted. Dozens of State Department officials were found to have used personal email accounts for official business.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who also used a personal email account while in office, was also faulted for not handing over emails when he left office.

"While political opponents of Hillary Clinton are sure to misrepresent this report for their own partisan purposes, in reality, the inspector general documents just how consistent her email practices were with those of other Secretaries and senior officials at the State Department who also used personal email,” Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon said in a statement.

Fallon said Clinton’s email setup “was not unique,” claiming that she “went much further than others to appropriately preserve and release her records.”

Still, Clinton’s bespoke communications setup has dogged her throughout the presidential campaign, and criticism is only likely to intensify once she enters a full-throated general election matchup against Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpNFL players stand in tunnel during anthem, extending protests 12 former top intel officials blast Trump's move to revoke Brennan's security clearance NYT: Omarosa believed to have as many as 200 tapes MORE.

And unlike previous secretaries of State, the department’s recordkeeping policies were more evolved by the time Clinton took office, the report maintained, so her activities “must be evaluated in light of these more comprehensive directives.”

State Department spokesman Mark Toner noted in a statement that the department has taken action on all eight of the recommendations made by the inspector general’s office. The problems, he indicated, were a symptom of getting the slow-moving bureaucracy of the government up to date with new technology.

“It is clear that the department could have done a better job preserving emails and records of secretaries of State and their senior staff going back several administrations,” Toner said.

“The department is committed to completing these improvements, and these matters have the full attention of Secretary [John] Kerry and the department’s senior staff,” he added.

Clinton has previously said that she used the personal email account out of convenience and that the setup was “allowed by the State Department,” even if a poor decision in retrospect.

The watchdog report refutes that claim, even if it does not explicitly accuse her of willfully breaking the rules.

“While we wouldn’t encourage the use of a personal email, there was no absolute prohibition on it during this or any other administration,” a senior State Department official told reporters.

At the same time, however, Clinton and her allies have appeared to be anticipating the watchdog’s report for weeks, and have suggested that the inspector general had an “anti-Clinton” political bias.

In addition to the State Department inspector general, the FBI and a watchdog for the nation’s intelligence agencies are also conducting separate analyses related to Clinton’s server.

The State Department is also battling multiple lawsuits alleging that Clinton’s use of a personal server broke federal rules. Current and former Clinton aides are scheduled to provide depositions in two of those lawsuits, and Clinton herself might be forced to answer questions under oath.

In late 2014, Clinton gave the State Department roughly 30,000 emails from her personal machine. Another batch containing roughly the same number of emails, which she said were purely personal, was deleted.

Critics of Clinton have questioned that move, and the chief litigant in the open records lawsuits has said he hopes to obtain all the deleted messages.

The stack of approximately 55,000 pages of emails Clinton gave to the federal government “was incomplete,” the inspector general noted in its report, pointing to multiple emails inspectors found through other means.

Only five of the 26 current and former Clinton aides responded to questionnaires sent by the watchdog office. Clinton herself turned down a request to be interviewed.

In addition to Clinton, four close staffers conducted “extensive use of personal email accounts,” the inspector general said, adding up to nearly 72,000 pages worth of messages. In doing so, they also violated the  State Department’s record-keeping policies.

Clinton’s campaign defended her practices in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

"While political opponents of Hillary Clinton are sure to misrepresent this report for their own partisan purposes, in reality, the Inspector General documents just how consistent her email practices were with those of other Secretaries and senior officials at the State Department who also used personal email,” spokesman Brian Fallon said.

“The report shows that problems with the State Department's electronic recordkeeping systems were longstanding and that there was no precedent of someone in her position having a State Department email account until after the arrival of her successor,” he added.

Fallon said Clinton’s email setup “was not unique” and that she “went much further than others to appropriately preserve and release her records.”

Last updated at 1:17 p.m.