State aide thought Clinton email was for ‘family and friends’

A State Department official who once offered to arrange a “stand-alone” computer for then-Secretary Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHow to stand out in the crowd: Kirsten Gillibrand needs to find her niche Ex-Clinton aide: Dems should make 2020 'about integrity' Trump mounts Rust Belt defense MORE said  he believed she was only emailing with friends and family — not using it for official work business. 

Lewis Lukens believed his suggested work-around was “for ease of access,” he said during a two-hour deposition with a conservative legal watchdog looking into Clinton’s private email server setup.

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But he assumed that her efforts to access her BlackBerry weren’t related to her job as the nation’s top diplomat.

“My understanding was that she was using the equipment to contact family and friends,” said Lukens, a former deputy executive secretary at the State Department.

The deposition of the 27-year State Department veteran came as part of a court-ordered process for the watchdog group Judicial Watch to gather evidence in a lawsuit against the State Department concerning Clinton's private server. The interview was conducted in Washington last Wednesday, and a transcript was released Thursday.

Days after Clinton entered office in January of 2009, Lukens talked with her then-Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills about ways for the top diplomat to access her email while at the State Department.

Like other areas of the department, Clinton’s office was considered a secured zone where officials were barred from bringing cellphones and unsecure devices. As such, she was unable to bring her BlackBerry device into the office.

Clinton never had a computer on her desk in the office.

But Lukens initially suggested setting up a machine that would let her access her personal email without having to go through the State Department’s systems.

The computer could be “connected to the internet (but not through our system) to enable her to check emails from her desk,” he suggested in an email that released by Judicial Watch earlier this year.

“The reason that I proposed a PC was that it would make it easier for her to log on,” he said as part of last week's sworn testimony. “And at that point, as far as I knew, there was no requirement for her to be connected to our system.”

The computer system was never erected, for reasons that remain unclear.

Clinton would have needed a state.gov email address in order to access the internet through the State Department’s OpenNet system, which is used by most of its officials. The system proposed by Lukens would have circumvented that, so that she could communicate with “family and friends," he said.

“She would have required fewer passwords,” he claimed.

In the interview, Lukens did not recall ever explicitly discussing Clinton’s use of a personal email address.

While he knew that she did not have a state.gov account, Lukens “assumed that she was using a commercially available email account," such as Yahoo or Google.

“On occasion,” Lukens said, he saw Clinton looking at her BlackBerry “in the hallway outside” the secure part of the building including her office.

Release of the testimony came the same day that the State Department's inspector general formally released a report criticizing Clinton and other former State Department officials for their use of personal emails and failure to preserve government records. Clinton's setup violated internal department rules, the report concluded, and deviated from cybersecurity standards.

The inspector general's report added to the mounting headache for Clinton, whose presidential campaign has been dogged by the email server issue for more than a year.

The judge in the Judicial Watch case, Emmet Sullivan, has said there is “at least a reasonable suspicion” that Clinton or her senior State Department aides may have violated federal record-keeping laws through her use of the personal email address and private server.

In his interview, Lukens was unable to remember ever being briefed on the Freedom of Information Act since he joined the department in 1989.

Last week's interview is the first of at least six named witnesses to provide answers under oath about the server setup and Clinton's use of it. Clinton herself may eventually be forced to offer testimony, the judge has claimed.

The second interview as part of Judicial Watch’s process, with former chief of staff Cheryl Mills, is scheduled to take place on Friday.

Hours ahead of that meeting, the judge granted her lawyers' request to bar Judicial Watch from releasing the video of the deposition. The lawyers feared that clips could be used “to advance a partisan agenda that should have nothing to do with this litigation.” 

Sullivan also declared that all video going forward would remain private unless he ordered otherwise, though the transcripts would be released to the public.