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“Significant Security Risks”: State Department Says Clinton Broke Rules Using Private Email Server

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An internal government watchdog has concluded Hillary Clinton broke government rules by using a private email server without approval while she was secretary of state. That was the key finding of a long-awaited report by the State Department inspector general. The report concluded that Clinton would not have been allowed to use a private server in her home had she asked department officials in charge of information security, because it posed “significant security risks.” This contradicts claims by Clinton that use of a home server was allowed and that no permission was needed. The report also criticized Clinton for not properly preserving emails she wrote and received on her personal account. According to the report, Clinton and eight of her deputies, including Cheryl Mills, Jake Sullivan and Huma Abedin, declined to be interviewed for the inspector general’s investigation. Clinton’s use of a private email server for State Department business is also the subject of an ongoing FBI investigation. We speak to journalist Michael Tracey.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: An internal government watchdog has concluded Hillary Clinton broke government rules by using a private email server without approval while she was secretary of state. That was the key finding of a long-awaited report by the State Department inspector general. The report concluded that Clinton would not have been allowed to use a private server in her home had she asked department officials in charge of information security, because it posed, quote, “significant security risks.” This contradicts claims by Clinton that use of a home server was allowed and that no permission was needed. The report also criticized Clinton for not properly preserving emails she wrote and received on her personal account. Clinton responded to the report during a campaign event in California [sic].

HILLARY CLINTON: [speaking at a press conference at the United Nations in March 2015] Looking back, it would have been better had I simply used a second email account and carried a second phone, but at the time this didn’t seem like an issue.

AMY GOODMAN: Though Hillary Clinton said she would comply with all probes into the server use, Clinton and eight of her deputies, including Cheryl Mills, Jake Sullivan and Huma Abedin, declined to be interviewed for the inspector general’s investigation. The FBI is conducting a separate inquiry into whether Clinton mishandled classified information. Liz Hempowicz of the group Project on Government Oversight responded by saying the inspector general’s report exposed a double standard in government, that those at the top are allowed to break the rules, while whistleblowers face retribution.

LIZ HEMPOWICZ: It’s very clear that the highest levels of our federal officials don’t believe that these rules apply to them. I think they absolutely should.

AMY GOODMAN: For more on the findings and the fallout of the inspector general’s report about Hillary Clinton’s email, we’re joined by journalist Michael Tracey, frequent contributor to Vice, The Daily Beast, the New York Daily News.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Michael. Talk about what you think is the most significant finding of the inspector general.

MICHAEL TRACEY: Well, in addition to the substance of what was found by the inspector general regarding her conduct with installing a private email server, what really stuck out to me and, I think, most observers was that she declined to be interviewed for the probe. Now, throughout her campaign and even prior to the campaign, she gave repeated assurances that she would comply with every single investigation into the propriety of this conduct. And for her now to have—to have been revealed that she did not comply with a probe overseen by the department which she headed for four years is pretty astonishing.

AMY GOODMAN: Because it was the inspector general of the State Department.

MICHAEL TRACEY: Of the State Department, right. And she was the head of that agency for four years. And not only did she not participate, but actually at least nine of her associates, whether they were employees of the department or external employees that were under the auspice of Hillary in particular, did not participate, either. So, of course that’s going to raise major questions.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: But at the same time, Hillary has said—Clinton has said that she will participate in the FBI investigation. Is that right?

MICHAEL TRACEY: Right, but if you go and examine the statements that her campaign has made and she has made individually, she never made a clear distinction between participation in the FBI probe and the State Department probe. So, for her now to retroactively claim that she did make that distinction doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. As recently as May 7th, she said that she would, quote, “talk to anybody” investigating the matter on behalf of the federal government.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, she also said—because there’s been some speculation about why she chose to use a private email server in the first place, and apparently in November 2010—this is what the report says—she wrote to one of her top aides, Huma Abedin, that, quote, “Let’s [get] separate address or device but I don’t want any risk of the personal being accessible.” What do you think the significance of that is? And that’s not what she initially claimed her reason was.

MICHAEL TRACEY: I just think it’s indicative of her giving a wide variety of explanations for her behavior that don’t cohere into a single, you know, digestible explanation that she could offer to voters. And I—just one more point, I think that speaks to why there’s been a deficiency in the level of scrutiny that’s been applied to it in the context of the Democratic primary. So Bernie Sanders has, validly, not raised the issue, and he has his own reasons for doing so. But the natural consequence of that is that it hasn’t been given a sufficient airing in the context of the Republican primary, and it’s going to be easily seized upon by Donald Trump in the context of a general election.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me turn to a clip from the Democratic debate in March, Clinton facing tough questioning from Univision moderator Jorge Ramos about her use of a home-based email server and who gave her permission to use it.

HILLARY CLINTON: It wasn’t the best choice. I made a mistake. It was not prohibited. It was not in any way disallowed. And as I’ve said and as now has come out, my predecessors did the same thing, and many other people in the government. But here’s the cut-to-the-chase facts. I did not send or receive any emails marked “classified” at the time. What you’re talking about is retroactive classification. … I am not concerned about it. I am not worried about it. And no Democrat or American should be, either.

JORGE RAMOS: The questions were—Secretary Clinton, the questions were: Who gave you permission to—to operate?


JORGE RAMOS: Was it President Obama?

HILLARY CLINTON: There was no permission to be asked. It had been done by my predecessors. It was permitted. I didn’t have to ask anyone.

JORGE RAMOS: If you get indicted, would you drop out?

HILLARY CLINTON: Oh, for goodness—that is not going to happen. I’m not even answering that question.

AMY GOODMAN: Hillary Clinton, speaking at a Democratic debate in March. Just a note about the earlier clip of Hillary Clinton in our lede, it was from March 2015, over a year ago, not from the campaign trail yesterday. So, Michael Tracey, this issue of she didn’t do anything differently than her predecessors, like Secretary of State General Colin Powell, who has also said the same thing, actually?

MICHAEL TRACEY: Well, that’s been a claim repeatedly made by Hillary Clinton herself and her campaign representatives for as long as this has been a controversy, but the State Department’s own report now finds that that claim has no basis. I mean, there were new sets of standards applied to the conduct of Hillary Clinton that did not apply to her predecessors. When Colin Powell was in office, for example—you know, he left office in 2005, and by then, the use of email was not nearly as widespread or not—and the security liabilities were not nearly as well understood. So, the idea that that’s a rationale for her behavior, I don’t think passes muster, either.

AMY GOODMAN: She keeps emphasizing she’s turned over 55,000 emails, certainly more than any of her predecessors, not only Condoleezza Rice, by the way, but—not only Colin Powell, but also Condoleezza Rice. But what about this, 55,000 email that she chose, or her people chose, to hand over?

MICHAEL TRACEY: Well, again, that’s a claim that’s been made without corroboration. But now we know that the claim is not totally accurate. There were emails found independently by the State Department investigator between Hillary Clinton and David Petraeus that she did not turn over in December 2014, when she purportedly handed over the totality of the batch. So, I mean, obviously, a figure of that significance is someone who the public is going to want to see the correspondence featuring.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, this is interesting, the general, right? Because—I’m reading from The Washington Post: “In his plea agreement, [General] Petraeus admitted to mishandling classified information that was contained in [his] personal notebooks. Petraeus told [his girlfriend Paula] Broadwell that his notebooks contained 'highly classified' information, yet gave them to her … lied to the FBI during the investigation—a felony that’s punishable by up to five years in prison,” let her see his classified emails, etc.

MICHAEL TRACEY: Yeah, I think this speaks to a broader fallacy in the way that Democrats have spoken about this issue. They’ve tried to conflate it with, you know, partisan skulduggery, which inevitably is going to engulf Hillary and has for 25 years. But in doing so, they’ve deflected from the real potential liabilities that this may occasion. And another thing, you know, in the clip that was just played, Hillary Clinton laughed off the possibility of an indictment. And that’s probably remote. But it’s not laughable that there could be some kind of criminal consequence to this behavior, whether on the part of Hillary or her subordinates.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, wait. Explain this, because, I mean, James Comey is not exactly a friend of President Obama—the head of the FBI, came in under the Bush administration, has undermined him in a number of ways. There’s clearly a conflict. He’s pushing forward with this investigation. He could recommend a criminal indictment, but it would be Obama’s Justice Department that would have to move forward with it, which would set up a royal conflict and an embarrassing one.

MICHAEL TRACEY: Right. So even if official criminal charges are not levied, it would still provoke a political—a political discord that we haven’t seen in generations, in terms of competing branches of the federal government coming to different conclusions about whether certain behavior rises to the level of criminality. And, you know, I think for her to laugh off that possibility, and for Democrats to laugh off that possibility, has made it such that the feasibility of this hasn’t been seriously entertained, maybe until now. And the reason—one reason why a lawyer would advise a client not to participate in a probe of this nature is because you could divulge information that could be used in a separate criminal investigation to establish a pattern of facts, which could conceivably result in some kind of criminal charges. So that’s always been a possibility in the air, but because, you know, the allegations have been so closely associated with Republican gamesmanship, I don’t think Democrats have given it sufficient thought in terms of what kind of problems this could pose for Hillary as a general election candidate.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I want to turn to a clip from then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in December 2011, the day before Army whistleblower Private Chelsea Manning went on trial for passing hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks.

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: I think that in an age when so much information is, you know, flying through cyberspace, we all have to be aware of the fact that, you know, some information, which is sensitive, which does affect the security of individuals and relationships, deserves to be protected. And we will continue to take necessary steps to do so.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Hillary Clinton speaking in 2011 about the WikiLeaks revelations made by Chelsea Manning. So could you comment on what Hillary Clinton said and whether you think that there’s a different standard that’s been applied to whistleblowers, like Chelsea Manning, and her opposition to the inquiry now regarding her own, let’s say, lax security around her emails while she was secretary of state?

MICHAEL TRACEY: Well, the double standards are overwhelmingly clear. It’s not disputed at this point that information marked “top secret,” according to the government, traversed the server of Hillary Clinton. And the server was not secured according to the guidelines established by the federal government. Now, had someone of less stature committed a similar infraction, based on the track record of Hillary Clinton’s own statements, we could draw a logical through line and assume that she would want the full weight of the criminal apparatus of the federal government to bear down on that individual.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Isn’t that what happened to the U.S. ambassador in Kenya? I think that’s one of the people who’s mentioned.

MICHAEL TRACEY: Right. And, you know, obviously, the case of Chelsea Manning is not totally analogous, but it speaks to a broader principle that’s not being evenly applied. So, whether or not you think that the classification regime of the federal government is sound, that has no bearing on whether the regime that exists should be applied broadly and equitably. And in insisting, as Hillary Clinton and her surrogates have done, that this is no big deal, they’re essentially arguing for a different standard to be applied to themselves. And that’s why people have so little faith in the system. And it’s not just for product of Republican fearmongering that there is this hunch that the law is not going to be applied in an equal manner.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Tracey, we just have a minute, but two quick questions. One, the effect of one of—the person who installed the server in the Chappaqua house being granted immunity? And the other, the reason that they would do this? Is it possible it’s related not—to not wanting to have FOIA requests of emails and questions about these emails that were involved with countries that had dealings with the Clinton Foundation?

MICHAEL TRACEY: Right. Well, a person named Bryan Pagliano has been granted immunity by the Department of Justice, and that doesn’t tend to happen unless there’s some substantial criminal proceeding having been undertaken or underway. So that’s not been given adequate consideration by Democratic partisans, either. And then, as you mentioned, there is the issue of whether public records law has been flouted. And that could conceivably—you know, depending on how enterprising a prosecutor is, could be folded into a criminal charge, because, you know, there are certain federal statutes governing how agencies and stewards of agencies must maintain public records. And there’s—you know, it’s already now established that Hillary Clinton’s maintenance of records violated the regulatory framework of the State Department. Now the only question is whether that rises to the level of a criminal violation of federal code. And it’s very possible, and, again, it’s troubling to someone who may have not given this adequate consideration. Now, I’m repeating myself, but this should have been given more of an airing in the context of the presidential—the Democratic presidential primaries, because Donald is going to have an absolute field day with it and pummel Hillary Clinton for even the appearance of some kind of impropriety, whether or not it eventuates in criminal charges.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Tracey, I want to thank you for being with us, journalist, researcher, frequent contributor to Vice, The Daily Beast and the New York Daily News.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we look at an Exxon shareholders meeting, the granddaughter of an Exxon scientist who told Exxon decades ago about the dangers of climate change. We’ll also speak with Bill McKibben, who’s been chosen by presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to serve on the platform committee at the Democratic convention. What will he be demanding the platform say about climate change? Stay with us.

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