The State Department’s senior-most official responsible for compliance with federal record-keeping laws said he never “focused on” Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email account for official business while secretary, according to transcript released Thursday.
Undersecretary for Management Patrick F. Kennedy said he received 50 to 75 emails from Clinton via her private server account as secretary from 2009 to 2013 and never contemplated or spoke with anyone about how they would be retained or made public under federal records laws. His statements came during 2½ hours of sworn deposition testimony taken Wednesday in a civil lawsuit brought under the federal Freedom of Information Act.
“It’s not — it’s not something that I ever focused on,” Kennedy, a 43-year career officer who has served six secretaries in senior management positions since 1993, said at one point.
“It did not register as — it did not strike any bells in my mind, no,” he said later. Kennedy said when he received the emails, “I was focused on responding to the query that I had received,” which included urgent matters such as the evacuation of a U.S. embassy in Tripoli or the deaths of Americans overseas.
Questions about Clinton’s email set-up have continued to dog the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee as she tries to put to rest a months-long controversy.
Kennedy said that he did not take notice of the private email account at least partly because he thought lower-level officials and employees in the secretary’s office were responsible and “because previous Secretaries of State had not used e-mail addresses at all” to his knowledge.
Kennedy has been in charge of records management at the State Department since 2012; he has been under secretary for management since 2007. He answered questions posed by lawyers for the conservative legal group Judicial Watch, which sued the department in 2013 under FOIA.
The group had sought records related to the employment arrangement of Clinton’s then-deputy chief of staff, Huma C. Abedin, now vice chair of the Democratic presidential candidate’s campaign.
After the existence of Clinton’s private email server was disclosed in March 2015, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan granted Judicial Watch permission to question seven current and former Clinton and department officials under oath about whether her set up thwarted FOIA and public records protections. After leaving office, Clinton and Abedin through their attorneys selected which emails on accounts they had used on the server were government-related and were then returned to the department for review and public release.
In a statement, Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton criticized Kennedy for “willful blindness” and “washing his hands” of the matter.
State Department Inspector General Steve Linick in May reported that “longstanding systemic weaknesses” in handling electronic records went “well beyond the tenure of any one secretary of state,” but criticized the department generally and the Office of the Secretary in particular for being “slow to recognize and to manage effectively the legal requirements and cybersecurity risks.”
Clinton has said that her arrangement was no secret and was “allowed” by the department. The inspector general said its office found no evidence she had requested or received approval for it. Former secretary of state Colin Powell also used a personal account for official business, the IG’s office reported.