Clinton Said to Be Open to "Neutral" Probe of Emails

Clinton Said to Be Open to "Neutral" Probe of Emails
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Hillary Clinton is open to an independent examination of email communications she created while serving as secretary of state – emails she did not make accessible to the government until recently, a spokesman for Clinton said Sunday.

Lanny Davis, a longtime Democratic crisis communicator, attorney and friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton, said the former New York senator would assent to a “neutral” examination conducted outside of the department she once led, if need be.

“If the State Department asks, she will say yes. If there's a subpoena, she must say yes,” Davis said on “Fox News Sunday.”

It is unclear what form a “neutral” examination might take. And processing and sifting through the communications will likely take months, if not longer. Clinton’s emails are being examined at the State Department; are now demanded by congressional subpoena; and are subject to years of pending Freedom of Information Act requests from media organizations and advocacy groups.

Davis suggested Clinton, who has been silent about the controversy beyond three sentences on her Twitter account last week, is amenable to an unspecified independent look at her emails, along with the manner in which they were created, maintained, handled by the former secretary, and secured against security breaches.

“Last time I looked you cannot delete on a hard drive,” Davis told Fox News’ Chris Wallace during a tense exchange. “There can be a neutral party to review all these records. … I think it is a reasonable idea if anybody has any doubts that there's a delete on a hard drive.”

Davis, just one of several Hillary Clinton surrogates who appeared Sunday on television, said she acted lawfully in opting to communicate by email entirely outside the State Department’s official system without preserving the privately maintained emails by copying them in real time to the state.gov system. Preserving government data and official government communications are requirements under the Federal Records Act, and Clinton herself instructed State employees in 2011 how to heed the law.

Although Clinton bypassed her own records-retention advisory, Davis said the presumptive presidential candidate-in-waiting did nothing wrong.

“The reason I don't think she did anything wrong is that, number one, there's plenty of precedent,” he said, noting that her State Department predecessors also used non-governmental means to send and receive email. And, he added, “the director of litigation for … the National Archives [and Records] Administration said she did nothing illegal or violated any of those rules.”

But the hair-splitting about the law and federal rules left unaddressed whether Clinton exercised sound judgment by going to some technical lengths in 2009 and beyond to send and maintain emails created under her own control but in her official capacity as a representative of the American people. When the State Department recognized the problem last year while responding to congressional inquiries, officials quietly asked Clinton and all recent secretaries of state to turn over privately created emails about official business.

Clinton submitted 55,000 “pages” of communications, according to the State Department, and sifting through the material to respond to GOP oversight requests will not be speedy, officials have said. The department noted Clinton used a separate, secure system for classified materials.

“She's turned over all of her emails, the first secretary of state to ever do that,” Davis said.

However, Clinton has not expressly said she turned over “all of her emails” to the government.

“I want the public to see my email. I asked State to release them. They said they will review them for release as soon as possible,” Clinton tweeted late March 4 as the controversy picked up steam.

GOP investigators on the House Select Committee on Benghazi last week issued subpoenas for Clinton’s emails in connection with the September 2012 attacks in Libya that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina said at a news conference, "I want the documents, sooner rather than later."

Democrats anxious to hold the White House in 2017 fear the drumbeat of negative headlines. Plus, Clinton’s unwillingness thus far to answer questions -- on top of recent media dissections of foreign contributions to the Clinton Foundation -- may remind voters of the Clintons’ vividly messy past, which could undercut momentum for Mrs. Clinton’s anticipated presidential campaign announcement this spring.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Sunday became the most prominent Democratic lawmaker to publicly criticize her former Senate colleague, offering a personal opinion that was also a bit of political advice.

"I think that she needs to step up," she told NBC News. "From this point on ... the silence is going to hurt her," she added. "She is the leading candidate, whether it be Republican or Democrat, to be the next president."

Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton appeared together Saturday at a Clinton Global Initiative event in Florida. Mrs. Clinton took no questions from the media, and said nothing about her emails. On Monday morning, she, her husband and her daughter will also host a gender equality discussion at CGI, and on Tuesday she’s scheduled to deliver a keynote address in New York marking the 20th anniversary of a speech she delivered in Beijing as first lady, in which she said women’s rights are human rights.    

President Obama, commenting on Clinton’s emails for the first time over the weekend, told CBS News he learned details about her communications from media accounts. The New York Times first reported March 2 that Clinton intentionally never maintained a government email address while serving as the country’s top diplomat, and instead communicated exclusively and privately via a clintonemail.com address. Obama spokesman Josh Earnest last week conceded officials knew of Clinton’s private address, but assumed her communications were appropriately archived within the State Department system. Earnest declined to say if Obama communicated with Clinton via email, but the White House has noted that the Presidential Records Act requires that Obama’s records -- including his emails with Clinton about official business -- will theoretically become public more than a dozen years after he leaves office. 

Obama defended the transparency of his administration, telling correspondent Bill Plante, “I'm glad that Hillary has instructed that those e-mails that had to do with official business need to be disclosed.”

Asked how he viewed his administration as transparent if his secretary of state asserted control over her government communications, the president sidestepped what Clinton had done in the past and focused on what she agreed to do in the past week: “I think that the fact that she's going to be putting them forward will allow us to make sure that people have the information they need,” he said.

Rep. Gowdy, appearing Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” said his committee would not selectively release some or portions of Clinton’s emails while the panel conducts its probe. “Now, if she wants to release all of them, with the emphasis being on the word `all,’ she's welcome to do that. I can't stop her from doing it,” he said, noting his committee obtained 308 Clinton emails before it issued subpoenas last week.

Gowdy suggested Clinton’s control of her communications may have prompted gaps in what his panel obtained, particularly emails related to the committee’s information requests.

“There are gaps of months and months and months,” the chairman asserted. “And if you think [of] that iconic picture of her on a C-17 flying to Libya, she has sunglasses on and she has her handheld device in her hand, we have no e-mails from that day. In fact, we have no e-mails from that trip.”

Gowdy said it’s hard to fathom that if Clinton was en route to Libya “to discuss Libyan policy that there's not a single document that has been turned over to Congress.”

The chairman took issue with Obama’s comment Sunday that his former secretary of state has agreed to allow her official communications to be released. “With respect to the president, it's not up to Secretary Clinton to decide what is a public record and what's not,” he said.

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com.  Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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