EXCLUSIVE: Hillary Clinton’s unorthodox use of a private email account and personal server for government business exploited a loophole in the State Department’s FOIA, or Freedom of Information Act, process, according to the findings of the first Inspector General report to stem from her email scandal.
Congress asked the Office of Inspector General, the State Department’s independent watchdog, to investigate the issue following the revelation that Mrs. Clinton did not use a government email account while secretary of state.
Fox News reviewed the 25-page report and its findings before they were made publicly available.
The report reads in part:
“FOIA neither authorizes nor requires agencies to search for Federal records in personal email accounts maintained on private servers or through commercial providers (for example Gmail, Yahoo, and Hotmail.) Furthermore, the FOIA Analyst has no way to independently locate Federal records from such accounts unless employees take steps to preserve official emails in Department record keeping systems.”
The report strongly suggests that it relies on employees at all levels to follow the regulations, and when personal email is used, to forward copies to a State Department account so that it can be captured.
“Under current law and Department policy, employees who use personal email to conduct official business are required to forward or copy email from a personal account to their respective Department accounts within 20 Days.”
Clinton did not have a State Department email address to which she could forward message traffic from her personal account, and it remains unclear whether she provided all her State Department business emails to the State Department or federal courts, where FOIA lawsuits have been filed.
The report also found that the State Department wait time for Freedom of Information Act Requests far exceeds that of other departments. For example, FOIA requires agencies to respond to requests within 20 working days, and “some requests involving the Office of the Secretary have taken more than 500 days to process.”
The State Department is also criticized for practices that “do not consistently meet statutory and regulatory requirements for completeness and rarely meet requirements for timeliness.”
Given Clinton’s use of a private account, where more than 1,000 classified emails have been identified, including at least two at the Top Secret level, it appeared ironic that the report states employees had not been reminded of their FOIA responsibilities “…since March 2009, when former Secretary Clinton sent a message commemorating Freedom of Information Day.”
The OIG report makes four recommendations, including that the Office of the Secretary should fully comply with FOIA requirements. The department said it agreed with the recommendations and changes had been made.
State Department spokesperson John Kirby said in response late Wednesday, ”The Department is committed to transparency, and the issues addressed in this report have the full attention of Secretary Kerry and the Department’s senior staff. While the volume of State Freedom of Information Act requests has tripled since 2008, our resources to respond have not kept pace.
“That said, we know we must continue to improve our FOIA responsiveness and are taking additional steps to do so. That’s why Secretary Kerry asked the State Inspector General to undertake this review in March, and it’s why he appointed a Transparency Coordinator this Fall.”
Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.