Clinton never used email as department head

Private account used extensively; scope of archiving unclear.

Hillary Clinton using a Blackberry.

Hillary Clinton may not have complied with federal records management rules while serving as secretary of State.

Hillary Clinton never used an official U.S. government email address as secretary of State, relying on private accounts exclusively to conduct official business. The news, first revealed in a New York Times story, raises questions about whether Clinton, widely presumed to be seeking the presidency in 2016, complied with records management policies while heading up a Cabinet department.

A recent update to the Federal Records Act put new limits on the use of private email accounts to conduct government business. Federal officials covered by the Records Act are required to forward copies of official messages sent or received on private accounts within 20 days.

That update did not apply to Clinton, who stepped down as secretary of State in February 2013. But guidelines from the National Archives and Records Administration have long advised officials using private email accounts or non-public government email to retain federal records from those accounts, either in electronic or in printed form.

In October 2014, the State Department asked representatives of former secretaries of State to supply any records they retained for preservation, according to a senior State Department official. In early December, the State Department received tens of thousands of pages of Clinton's emails, according to a senior State Department official.

It's not clear whether those emails were supplied in their original format with associated metadata, or in document or printed form. Those emails are now official permanent records. The move came, according to the official, as the State Department worked to improve its compliance with evolving federal records policy, as outlined in a 2012 White House directive and updated through guidance from NARA. That policy calls for the electronic management of email records by the end of 2016, and the electronic management of all digitally produced federal records by the end of 2019.

Some of Clinton's email traffic was already being captured. "The State Department has long had access to a wide array of Secretary Clinton’s records -- including emails between her and department officials with accounts," State Dept. spokesperson Marie Harf told FCW in an emailed statement. This does not account for any emails sent outside the agency, however, even to other government officials.

It was already suspected that Clinton used personal email for at least some of her correspondence. A hack of Clinton associate Sidney Blumenthal revealed communications with an email account on the domain that appeared to belong to Hillary Clinton. A new Washington Post report indicates that the domain was first registered on the eve of Clinton's confirmation hearing on Jan. 13, 2009. 

That timing is interesting, because the Obama administration was taking office amid an email scandal involving millions of lost, deleted and misfiled emails from the Bush White House, which lingered until December 2009.

Private email scandals have dogged government officials of both parties at the local, state and federal levels. During the Obama administration, for example, former Justice Department official and current Labor Secretary Thomas Perez faced subpoenas from a House committee seeking access to personal emails allegedly used in legal negotiations. Former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson caught heat for using a non-public alias as her primary email account.

What is a record?

The records schedule for the secretary of State indicates that just about anything the top official produces, reads, comments on or receives constitutes a permanent federal record, and must be "retired to the Records Service Center (RSC) at the end of the Secretary's tenure or sooner if necessary."

The guidance for the Secretary's Chronological File, which includes a broad range of written material, including "chits, correspondence, briefing materials, official-informal correspondence, memorandums, memorandums of conversation, notes, reports, speeches, statements, telegrams," was last updated in March 1999. There is no specific mention of email, whether official or not, although government-wide federal records policy is clear that email counts for permanent record purposes.

Officials tried to make the case that email culture was slow to penetrate the upper echelons at State. "For some historical context, Secretary Kerry is the first secretary of State to rely primarily on a email account," Harf noted. Kerry's emails are regularly archived, in accordance with records schedules.

In October 2014, a notice was issued to all State Department employees that outlined records management requirements and responsibilities, according to the senior official. That notice alerted State employees that, in keeping with NARA's 2013 guidance, employees should not use personal email for government business. When use of personal email did prove necessary, employees were told to forward such communications to their official account.