Editorials

Clinton violates a basic email rule

Hillary Clinton works from a desk inside a C-17 military plane on the way from Malta to Libya in 2011. She used only a personal email account during her four years as secretary of state.
Hillary Clinton works from a desk inside a C-17 military plane on the way from Malta to Libya in 2011. She used only a personal email account during her four years as secretary of state. Associated Press file

The rule is drilled into office workers everywhere – only use your work email for business-related messages and keep your personal email separate.

Somehow, Hillary Clinton doesn’t seem to have followed that protocol as our nation’s top diplomat – and she’s properly being asked pointed questions about it.

As The New York Times reported Tuesday, Clinton never even had a government email address during her four years as secretary of state. Instead, she exclusively used a personal email account to conduct official business, communicating with State Department staff and, apparently, with other U.S. officials and foreign leaders.

She left office in early 2013, but it wasn’t until two months ago – responding to a new record-keeping requirement – that the Clinton camp turned over any of her emails to the State Department, some 55,000 pages of them.

Clinton’s lack of transparency raises questions about her motives.

Federal law is clear: Letters and emails written and received by federal officials are government records and are supposed to be kept so that congressional committees, journalists and historians can find them. But, the Times reported, Clinton’s staff did not act to preserve them on State Department computer servers. Only certain classified and sensitive messages are supposed to be withheld, but it’s not at all clear how many or which emails Clinton has decided not to release.

Her spokesman told The Times that she followed the “letter and spirit of the rules,” and she may have some wiggle room in when the rules fully took effect. It’s also likely that much of Clinton’s email correspondence with other government officials had been retained. Still, her successor, John Kerry, has used a government email account and his communications are being preserved in State Department records.

Now, it’s up to Clinton whether this is a brief, inside-the-Beltway kerfuffle, or a bigger issue that could dog her expected 2016 presidential campaign. She and her team need to give the rest of the emails to the State Department, and publicly explain the reasons for her unusual email habits.

A House oversight committee highlighted Clinton’s use of private email as it investigated the 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens. As we’ve said, that committee, led by Rep. Darrell Issa, a San Diego County Republican, has gone overboard in going after Clinton.

Clinton’s foes have been out to get her, so perhaps she wanted to shield her correspondence to avoid giving them more ammunition. But that doesn’t justify attempting to play by different rules than other government officials.

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