Throughout Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, she used a private e-mail address for her official correspondence instead of a government account. This has led many to question whether the former secretary violated federal recordkeeping laws. Whether or not Clinton violated the law, her decision to use a private account while serving in a high-level Cabinet position severely reduces her accountability during her time as secretary.
The domain name for the e-mail Clinton used while secretary was called “clintonemail.com” and was created on Jan. 13, 2009, the day her Senate confirmation hearings began. This seems to indicate this e-mail account was created specifically for Hillary Clinton to use while serving as Secretary of State. It is strange that Clinton and her staff decided, in creating a new e-mail for her tenure as Secretary of State, that a private account with a server based in Clinton’s home was more appropriate than creating an official government account. This decision makes little sense on its face. It would have been just as simple, if not more so, to create a government account for Clinton. The decision to deliberately choose a private account appears odd. Most official correspondence takes place through official government account, with the use of private accounts being the exception, not the rule.
Regarding government recordkeeping, only messages sent or received by government accounts are automatically recorded. Any messages sent to a party outside the State Department, or to a party’s private e-mail would not be recorded even if they related to government business. Therefore, Clinton has prevented government access to a number of her e-mails and their contents. Federal regulations state, “Agencies that allow employees to send and receive official electronic mail messages using a system not operated by the agency must ensure that federal records sent or received on such systems are preserved in the appropriate agency recordkeeping system.” Thus, Clinton’s unusual decision to use a private e-mail account for government business, though troubling and concerning, may not have broken regulations if the State Department ensured that all federal records from that account were preserved.
However, this was certainly not the case. Clinton stepped down from her position of Secretary of State on Feb. 1, 2013. She turned over 55,000 pages of e-mail transcripts to the State Department upon request a few months ago. Government recordkeeping requirements cannot possibly be stretched to permit this kind of activity. Relying on former government official to turn over records almost two years after they have left office is extremely inappropriate. If Clinton insisted on using a private e-mail as Secretary of State for official business, all messages associated with that e-mail should have been automatically recorded.
What happened in this case is much more worrying. In turning over the 55,000 pages of relevant e-mails, Clinton’s own aides and lawyers were those who determined which messages were relevant to the State Department. Relying on Clinton’s personal aides to determine which e-mails the government should have access to raises serious questions. Hillary Clinton cannot be held accountable if she is allowed to selectively determine which of her messages the government may see. If Clinton conducted any official correspondence that would be damaging to her if revealed, she can simply choose not to reveal it. The AP writes, “Operating her own server would have afforded Clinton additional legal opportunities to block government or private subpoenas in criminal, administrative or civil cases because her lawyers could object in court before being forced to turn over any emails.”
Permitting this type of activity from government officials clearly reduces accountability. The government must not condone Hillary Clinton’s decision to selectively turn over messages from a private account she regularly conducted government business through. This type of behavior allows government officials to absolve themselves from public accountability, propping the door wide open for incompetence and corruption. Whether she broke any regulations or whether you support her politics is irrelevant. Public officials cannot be given the discretion to determine whether some of their official correspondence is kept secret.