The Ongoing Mystery of Who OK'd Clinton's Private Server
Judicial Watch deposes aide Huma Abedin and Undersecretary Patrick Kennedy.
With Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign awaiting results of an FBI probe into her handling of classified information, her aides and former colleagues continue to give testimony in a private lawsuit without answering the question of who approved Clinton’s controversial private home server.
Judicial Watch, the conservative nonprofit legal group that sued the State Department to clarify the unusual employment status of Clinton deputy chief of staff Huma Abedin, won from a U.S. district judge the right to depose current and former State officials—and to publish the transcripts.
This week, it released attorneys’ interviews with Abedin and Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy. Both were asked about how Clinton’s private server came to be and whether due consideration was given to recordkeeping obligations under the Freedom of Information Act.
A Government Executive review of the two sessions finds no indicator of a specific decision or discussion of the pros and cons of the unusual arrangement, the aides casting it more as a way for Clinton to avoid spam and protect her private messages while conducting diplomacy.
Abedin on June 28 described how Clinton information technology aide Justin Cooper helped set up Abedin’s account on Clinton’s private server as a routine fix. Abedin had lost her email accounts from Clinton’s Senate staff and presidential campaign, and she consulted with Cooper whenever glitches occurred in the course of the secretary’s communications.
Abedin did, however, acknowledge that she occasionally used the private email for State business as well as personal communication. And as a member of Clinton’s inner circle, she comes across in the testimony as slightly bewildered that the issue became so salient.
Kennedy testified on June 29 that the significance did not “register” with him that Clinton was using a non-state.gov email account even though he communicated with her by email, Judicial Watch noted in a statement. He voiced no opinion as to whether policies were violated except to say that State Department records-management policy encourages employees to use state.gov addresses for official business.
His testimony suggests he was focused on fast-breaking events detailed in emails from the secretary and not on which email address she wrote from. Kennedy also said he did not discuss with Clinton whether she should use a private server, saying it was “not in my purview.”
Clinton’s Deputy Chief of Staff
Abedin, the transcript shows, expressed sympathy for her boss’ expressed desire to keep personal emails private—the ones Clinton has characterized as dealing with her daughter’s wedding and her yoga class. “I understand . . . her not wanting her . . . private personal emails being accessible,” though Abedin did not recall any discussion of the issue.
She was asked, during frequent objections by her attorney, “Upon becoming the head of the agency, did the secretary request authorization from anyone at the State Department to use her Clintonemail.com for State Department business?” Abedin’s reply: “Not that I'm aware of.”
When asked whether Clinton ever objected to Abedin’s use of her private email account for official business, the aide replied, “No, not that I remember.”
Adedin said she and other Clinton aides did not, as the questioner phrased it, “consult with anybody in Patrick Kennedy's office about your use of the Clintonemail.com accounts for State Department business.”
Asked whether she had consulted with State’s Executive Secretariat records management official Clarence Finney or his staff on the arrangement, Abedin said, “I don't recall any conversations.”
When Judicial Watch attorneys asked whether Abedin was aware of her obligations to preserve records, she said, “The emails on my State Department system existed on my computer, and I . . . didn't have a practice of managing my mailbox other than leaving what was in there sitting in there.”
Asked whether she ever searched her BlackBerry for records that had been requested by the FOIA office, Abedin said she was never asked to.
Finally, Abedin did not recall the previously reported departmentwide memo Clinton sent in 2011 declaring that employees “should only use their State Department e-mail accounts for State Department business.”
Overall, Abedin’s status as one of the few with access to Clinton’s private email account “wasn't something -- I didn't, you know -- I kept hidden,” Abedin told the attorneys. “It was shared with people, people at State used it particularly when State.gov was down. I used it. I assumed it was okay to use it. I wasn't told that I couldn't use it. But my practice was to use my State.gov” official account.
State’s Undersecretary for Management
Like the general public, Kennedy learned about Clinton’s private email server when the New York Times broke the story while reporting on the House Benghazi investigation in March 2015.
In this week’s testimony, Kennedy noted that in the course of Clinton’s four-year tenure at State he participated in about 30 email exchanges with her (judging by the FOIA requests he was later asked to review).
He told his questioners he recalled one email in particular because “it involved an evacuation of American citizens, and that is a subject for which I am particularly responsible.” But Kennedy did not recall noticing the return address, only that it was from Secretary Clinton. “I focused on the subject matter, because this was an ongoing evacuation of American citizens from a place of grave danger.”
When asked whether he thought about how her records would be managed, Kennedy said he did not.
Did he think “it was unusual for the Secretary of State to be not using a State Department email address?,” the Judicial Watch attorney asked. “No, I did not,” Kennedy replied, “because previous Secretaries of State had not used email addresses at all,” in the course of daily business.
Kennedy called Clinton’s use of that private email address of “a very, very limited nature.” He never asked her or any other staffers whether the secretary was using a non-State email address, he testified. “It's not something that I ever focused on.”
Kennedy added he is “not responsible for the provision of records or telecommunication support to the Secretary of State. That is handled by an office within the Executive Secretariat.” Kennedy acknowledged that he had passed on the resume of Bryan Pagliano—the IT specialist who was hired and set up Clinton’s private server—but did not manage his work.
Asked point blank who would be authorized to approve Clinton’s email arrangement, Kennedy said, “It would have come either from the chief information officer or from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Most likely a combination of the two,” he said.
Did “Mrs. Clinton's use of a non-State Department email address . . . conflict with any State Department policies, practices, or procedures?” the Judicial Watch attorney asked. “I am not a lawyer, sir. I would have to consult with . . . appropriate officials and the legal advisor's office, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the Bureau of Administration, and the office—and the chief information officers.”
Finally, Kennedy was pressed for the title of a specific individual “who would be responsible for informing the secretary that she should not use a non-State.gov email account to conduct government business?”
Said Kennedy: “I'm not sure . . . I can identify a specific individual person. It would have been the collective responsibility of the Executive Secretariat.”