It’s Colin Powell vs. Hillary Clinton on email

It’s Colin Powell vs. Hillary Clinton on email
© Getty Images

Republicans are seizing on reports of friction between Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham Clinton'Where's your spoon?' What we didn't learn in the latest debate The Hill's 12:30 Report: Roger Stone gets over three years in prison; Brutal night for Bloomberg Poll: Democrats trail Trump in Wisconsin, lead in Michigan and Pennsylvania MORE and Colin Powell to bolster their case that the Democratic presidential nominee lied to the FBI about her handling of classified information.

Powell this weekend publicly reproached Clinton’s reported comments to the FBI naming him as the inspiration for her private email setup at the State Department.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Her people have been trying to pin it on me,” Powell, who was secretary of State under President George W. Bush, told People at an event in the Hamptons this weekend.  “The truth is she was using [her email setup] for a year before I sent her a memo telling her what I did.”

The episode raises “serious questions about whether she lied to the FBI” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement on Monday. 

“Clinton’s pattern of serial dishonesty is completely unacceptable for a candidate seeking the nation’s highest office, and her refusal to tell the truth and own up to her poor judgment is a preview of how she would conduct herself if elected president.”

According to The New York Times, Clinton told the FBI that Powell, who used a personal email account during his time at the State Department, had advised her to do the same early on in her tenure as President Obama's secretary of State. The account was reportedly contained in summaries of the 3 1/2-hour interview distributed to Congress last week. Allies of Clinton have feared that Republicans would selectively leak details of those summaries to paint an unflattering portrait of Clinton.

Author Joe Conason in a new book reports that Powell gave his advice to Clinton over dinner at the Washington home of another former secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, in June of 2009.

Powell’s office later claimed that he had no memory of the dinner, though aides acknowledged he did send Clinton a memo claiming that his email system had improved the State Department’s communications. 

FBI Director James Comey testified before Congress last month that investigators had "no basis to conclude [Clinton] lied to the FBI.”

A bureau spokeswoman on Monday declined to comment further on the investigation.  

Clinton’s campaign did not respond to an email request for comment.

For months, Clinton allies have pointed to the precedent set by Powell to explain her reliance on a private email server run out of her New York home. But neither Clinton nor her campaign has publicly credited him with inspiring her setup.   

Getting into a public spat with Powell could hurt Clinton’s campaign.

Powell has yet to make an endorsement in the 2016 race, but people in his orbit, such as former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, have backed Clinton.

Powell, a registered Republican who has frequently been floated as a possible candidate for president, memorably endorsed Obama in both 2008 and 2012 and served as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff early in the term of Clinton’s husband, former President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonMeghan McCain after Gaetz says Trump should pardon Roger Stone: 'Oh come on' Enlightening the pardon power The Hill's Morning Report - Democrats duke it out during Nevada debate MORE.

He is one of the few high-profile national security figures to remain undecided in this year’s presidential contest, and has been conspicuous in not endorsing Clinton.

Republican presidential nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpChasten Buttigieg: 'I've been dealing with the likes of Rush Limbaugh my entire life' Lawmakers paint different pictures of Trump's 'opportunity zone' program We must not turn our heads from the effects of traumatic brain injuries MORE ripped Clinton over the news, using it to bolster his case that voters should not trust her.

“Well, look, she's a liar,” Trump said on “Fox and Friends.”

“She lied about the email. She lied about Colin Powell. I saw that, he was not happy.” 

“The whole thing is a scam with them,” he added. “Everything is a scam — like grifters.”

The line of attack is targeting a well-worn vulnerability of Clinton’s: that she is dishonest and untrustworthy. The Democratic nominee has persistently been troubled by claims that she is deceitful, which have only been exacerbated by repeated focus on her email setup.

That weakness was on display Monday amid revelations that the FBI had discovered roughly 15,000 previously undisclosed documents sent to or from Clinton while she was in office. Many of those messages and attachments are expected to be released to the public this fall, though it’s unclear how many will be revealed before Election Day.

Additionally, emails released by conservative watchdog Judicial Watch appeared to show the private email system being used to secure special access for people connected with the Clinton family’s charitable foundation.

Both Powell and Clinton used private email accounts during their times at the State Department, earning them stern reprimands from an inspector general earlier this year.

The two secretaries “used personal email accounts to conduct official business” without adequately preserving their records, the watchdog concluded in May, in violation of official policies.

Yet the two cases contain stark differences, as fact-checkers have pointed out. 

In his State Department office, Powell used a personal AOL email account and a laptop operating on a private line to message his assistants and diplomats around the globe.

Clinton, meanwhile, erected a series of servers in the basement of her home, on which she operated a custom-built email system with the address clintonemail.com.  

And four years had passed between Powell’s tenure and Clinton’s. 

In the interim, the State Department had explicitly warned employees about the need to preserve email records.

It had also grown more aware of the cybersecurity risks of not using a government-sanctioned email account. Technology and digital security policies “were very fluid in Secretary Powell’s tenure,” the watchdog report said in May, and “the department was not aware at the time of the magnitude of the security risk associated with information technology.”