White House Press Secretary Said 'Personal Email' More Than 40 Times in Two Days
Josh Earnest spent this week fielding a barrage of questions about Hillary Clinton’s e-mail practices at the State Department.
The biggest storm in Washington this week had nothing to do with snow, and everything to do with the flurry of questions the White House received about Hillary Clinton's email use during her tenure at the State Department.
In a span of two days of Clinton-heavy press briefings, White House Press Josh Earnest used the term "personal e-mail" 41 times times to refer to Clinton's exclusive use of a private account to conduct official business as secretary of State, as reported by The New York Timeson Monday night. In the same period, Earnest said "Netanyahu" 11 times, "health insurance" 11 times, and "Ukraine" three times. At least in Washington, the Clinton news clearly overshadowed the other stories of the week.
The email story put the White House in the unusual—and uncomfortable—spot of having to answer for someone who doesn't work for it anymore. And it seems like the administration didn't even see it coming: an unnamed source told The Associated Press on Thursday that the White House counsel's office wasn't aware that Clinton used a personal account for e-mail correspondence. The office only found out after some of her e-mail messages were given to a House committee investigating the 2012 Benghazi attack, the same committee that discovered Clinton did not have a government e-mail as secretary of State.
Clinton's camp has stayed mostly quiet, save for a tweet by the former state secretary herself late Wednesday night saying she wants the public to "see my email."
The White House has repeatedly told reporters to direct their questions to the State Department, saying that it's up to that agency to handle how its employees use e-mail correspondence to conduct official work. Earnest wouldn't say definitively whether the White House believes Clinton broke the law.
He did suggest, however, that Clinton could have violated White House guidance on e-mail correspondence if she didn't forward personal emails relating to government business to the State Department for archival purposes, as required by the Federal Records Act. Clinton's aides did not forward such emails to department servers during her tenure. It was not until two months ago that her team began reviewing emails following a request from the State Department. Clinton advisers sent 55,000 pages of e-mails to the agency, 900 pages of which were forwarded to the House committee on Benghazi.
Unable—or unwilling—to talk in detail about Clinton's e-mail use, Earnest on Tuesday turned to describing his own. "The official guidance that we offer to administration employees, and it's certainly the guidance I followed here when I've been at the White House, is that I use my official government email address when I'm conducting official government business," he said. "It saves me the additional step of having to take a personal email and forward it to my government email so it can be properly maintained."
Earnest got a break from this line of questioning Thursday, thanks to the snow. But expect more inquiries—and more referrals to the State Department—in the coming days.