Colin Powell defends personal email use – Politico
Colin Powell is defending his use of a personal email account during his time as secretary of state, as Democrats stepped up complaints that the intense focus on Hillary Clinton’s email practices reflects a double standard.
Powell’s statement came after a top Democrat released an email Powell sent Clinton in early 2009 describing his use of personal communication devices in State’s secure executive suite despite warnings from security officials that such use could jeopardize classified information.
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“Secretary Clinton has stated that she was not influenced by my email in making her decisions on email use. I was not trying to influence her but just to explain what I had done eight years earlier to begin the transformation of the State Department’s information system,” Powell said.
Powell adopted one of Clinton’s defenses Thursday, saying his actions didn’t jeopardize government record-keeping because official emails would have found their way into State’s official systems.
“With respect to records, if I sent an email from my public email account to an addressee at another public email account it would not have gone through State Department servers. It was a private conversation similar to a phone call. If I sent it to a state.gov address it should have been captured and retained by State servers,” Powell said. “I was not aware at the time of any requirement for private, unclassified exchanges to be treated as official records.”
In the email exchange released Wednesday by House Oversight Committee ranking Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings, Powell appeared proud that he had defied security officials by using hand-held devices in the agency’s secure spaces.
“They gave me all kinds of nonsense about how they gave out signals and could be read by spies, etc.,” Powell wrote, referring to personnel from State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security. “I had numerous meetings with them. We even opened one [device] up for them to try to explain to me why it was more dangerous than say, a remote control for one of the many tvs in the suite. Or something embedded in my shoe heel. They never satisfied me and NSA/CIA wouldn’t back off. So, we just went about our business and stopped asking.”
“I had an ancient version of a PDA and used it,” Powell added in the email.
Powell’s statement Thursday was silent on his use of portable electronics in his office, but he indicated he was comfortable with his actions.
“I have been interviewed by the State Department IG and the FBI about my actions and decisions. I stand by my decisions and I am fully accountable,” Powell said.
Powell issued his statement as Democrats at a contentious House hearing on State Department email practices angrily accused their GOP colleagues of obsessing about Clinton’s private email set-up while essentially ignoring Powell’s.
“I have tremendous respect for Secretary Powell and his decades of service to our nation, despite the poor judgment shown in this email,” said Cummings, who secured the Clinton-Powell exchange from State this week and released it Wednesday night.
“I think everyone in this room knows what is really going on here: this hearing is not about an effort to improve FOIA [the Freeom of Information Act] or federal recordkeeping. This is an attack—an attack on Hillary Clinton’s candidacy for president of the United States of America and just the latest in a series of attacks,” Cummings said. “Secretary Clinton has produced some 55,000 pages of emails while Secretary Powell has produced none.”
The senior State Department official testifying at the hearing, Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy, said he was not aware that Powell had used personal electronic devices in the secure office spaces at State, but might not have been aware since Kennedy was not in his current job then.
Asked if his predecessor would have allowed Powell to use a personal device in the secure area, Kennedy said: “He would not have.”
Kennedy said State asked Powell for all official records in his possession but was told he no longer has access to his emails from that era, which were stored in an America Online account.
Democrats said State should press AOL directly for the Powell records, as officials at the National Archives suggested, but Kennedy said State’s lawyers had concluded that would be improper.
“We cannot make a request for someone else’s records from their providers. That request has to be made by them,” Kennedy said.
Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) seemed exasperated with that answer, saying State should have pressed harder. Then, he began thundering against his GOP colleagues, charging bias against Clinton.
“This is a sham. This is a sham,” Lynch exclaimed. “The only reason we’re doing it is because she’s running for president of the United States. That’s the plain and god-awful truth.”
Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) defended the panel’s work, noting that their key request to State on the issue asked for records about the email practices of “the current and past four secretaries of state.” He said he wanted all official records that wound up outside State’s custody returned.
“I will work with you to recover those emails. I just want the federal records,” Chaffetz said.
“All of them?” Cummings asked.
“All of them….If we have to use the power of the committee using subpoenas, we will do that,” Chaffetz replied.
The hearing also featured testimony from a player in the Clinton email saga who has not previously been heard from publicly: Clarence Finney. Finney handled the processing of FOIA requests in Clinton’s office, often sending back response that “no records” were found—largely because he and other recordkeeping officials had no access to Clinton’s personal email server.
Several Republican members questioned Finney, seemingly fishing for him to express outrage about having Clinton’s records hidden from him. One member, Rep. John Mica of Florida, waved a copy of a POLITICO post noting that in 2011 a viral internet photo of Clinton using her BlackBerry prompted Finney to make a follow-up inquiry about her email set-up.
Despite the repeated invitation from the GOP, Finney expressed no criticism of others, saying he was satisfied people truthfully answered when he asked about Clinton’s email arrangement.
“The question I asked after she came on board and when I saw the picture was: Does she have a State.gov account and they told me: ‘No,'” Finney said.
“Do you think they purposefully didn’t tell you” about her use of a personal account? Rep. Blake Farenthold asked
“No sir,” Finney replied.
Chaffetz also questioned Kennedy about why the dozens of emails he personally exchanged with Clinton didn’t suggest to him that she was extensively relying on a private account for her State Department work.
“I was told she had a personal BlackBerry for keeping in touch with her family,” Kennedy said. “It did not strike me as abnormal to get emails from the secretary of state on evenings or the weekend from her personal BlackBerry….I had no reason to know that these were not being recorded somewhere.”
“I think you did,” Chaffetz shot back.
Some Republicans also criticized State for having turned over the Clinton-Powell exchange on the eve of this week’s hearing, when other requests for information have been outstanding for months.
I’m “seeing an incredibly quick response by the State Department when it is responding to the ranking member….and a slow walk when [a request] comes from the chairman,” Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina said.
Kennedy said the Cummings request was easier to handle since it involved essentially a single document. He also noted that State just received the emails in question from the FBI. Clinton did not turn over messages from her first months in office, saying she no longer had them.
However, Meadows still suspected collusion between State and the Democrats.
“It is with unbelievable speed when it fits the narrative that you want,” he said.