“It's a mistake, and it's entirely my own,” he said, adding, “I stopped” as soon as he realized the practice was against policy.
Peter Cook, the Pentagon spokesman, confirmed the newspaper’s account, saying Carter’s actions were a “mistake” and the defense secretary had stopped the use of the private account. He added that Carter used the account primarily to correspond with friends and family.
Any email related to work received on this personal account, such as an invitation to speak at an event or an administrative issue, is copied or forwarded to his official account so it can be preserved as a federal record as appropriate.
Secretary Carter strongly prefers to conduct communications on the phone or in person, and like many of his predecessors rarely uses email for official government business. The secretary does not directly email anyone within the department or the U.S. government except a very small group of senior advisers, usually his chief of staff.
Cook did not say whether Carter’s action violated a Defense Department’s policy, adopted in 2012, that bars all employees from using personal email accounts to conduct official business. Additionally, federal officials are barred from sending or receiving official email on their personal accounts—unless the correspondence is copied into their official accounts or forwarded to them within 20 days.
It isn’t clear how many emails Carter sent or received on his personal account, but he is the second high-level Cabinet-level official in the Obama administration to follow the practice. The official who has received scrutiny prior to this is Clinton, the former secretary of state who is now seeking the Democratic nomination for the presidency.
Clinton has said she sent and received about 30,000 emails from her personal account, and the State Department has released some of those emails to the public. But as my colleague David Graham, who has been following the Clinton scandals closely, notes:
The rules governing use of personal emails are murky, and Clinton aides insist she followed the rules. There’s no dispositive evidence otherwise so far. The greater political problem for Clinton is it raises questions about how she selected the emails she turned over and what was in the ones she deleted. The FBI has reportedly managed to recover some of the deleted correspondence. Could the server have been hacked? Some of the emails she received on her personal account are marked sensitive. Plus there’s a entirely different set of questions about Clinton’s State Department emails. The FBI is investigating the security of the server as well as the safety of a thumb drive belonging to her lawyer that contains copies of her emails. And the AP reports that the setup may have made the server vulnerable to hacking. Given the shabby state of State Department cybersecurity, she might not have been any better off using the official system.
Carter’s emails obtained by the Times, through a Freedom of Information Act request, include 72 work-related emails he sent or received from his personal email account in the month of April. The Times reported Carter was emailing Eric Fanning, his chief of staff at the time, as well as other senior aides on their government email addresses.
The correspondence, the Times said, included discussions on legislation, TV appearances, and hotel bills.