How the State Department Is Defending Hillary Clinton's Personal Email Use

The former secretary of State is, so far, largely letting her former colleagues handle the controversy.

National Journal

Without an official infrastructure of her own, Hillary Clinton is relying on the State Department to fill the vacuum and defend her exclusive use of a personal email account for government business.

In a press briefing Tuesday, department spokeswoman Marie Harf repeatedly asserted that the former secretary of State had not broken any laws or subverted official policy, telling reporters that as long as emails were preserved, there was "no prohibition on using a non-State account."

Because Clinton hasn't officially launched a campaign, she doesn't have her own organization to respond to criticism. In response, groups supporting Clinton, such as Democratic watchdog Correct the Record, have jumped in to defend the nascent candidate. Clinton's former workplace has been no exception.

Trying to neutralize the flap, Harf said she was surprised by the "breathless reporting" on the Clinton emails, noting that it had already been public knowledge that the presidential contender used her personal email while secretary.

What Clinton did, Harf said, was "by no means unusual"—in fact, she said, John Kerry is the first secretary of State to exclusively use the official state department email. This contradicts a spokesperson for former Secretary Condoleezza Rice, who told NBC on Tuesday that Rice "did not use her personal email for official communication as secretary."

Touting Clinton's transparency efforts, Harf said that when the State Department put out a call for former secretaries to turn over their email records for preservation, Clinton was the only one who responded. She handed over more than 55,000 pages of emails to the department.

Harf also repeated her assurance that Clinton's use of a personal account rather than a secure government address did not breach state security.

"This was an unclassified email," she said. "No classified email was done on it."

Clinton rarely used email for official business, a former State department official told Bloomberg Politics. Instead, she communicated over the phone or in person.

On Tuesday, the notoriously tight-lipped Clinton camp broke its silence to respond to the reports. In a statement, Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill said "both the letter and spirit of the rules permitted" Clinton's use of a personal email, pointing to a precedent set by former secretaries.

"Like secretaries of State before her, she used her own email account when engaging with any department officials," he said. "For government business, she emailed them on their department accounts, with every expectation they would be retained."

In the briefing, Harf said Clinton's email practices were acceptable because her emails were preserved. Because many were sent to other State Department officials who did use government accounts, she said, many of Clinton's emails were retained.

As far as the security of a personal account, Harf declined to comment, telling reporters she wasn't going to "get into those specifics" of what kind of account Clinton used, be it Gmail, AOL, or another provider.

And on whether Clinton received an official government email and chose not to use it, or never got one at all, Harf said she didn't know.