By Stephen Dinan -Â
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton deleted nearly 32,000 emails she deemed private from her time in the Obama administration and refused Tuesday to turn over her personal email server, insisting she “fully complied” with the law and that voters will have to trust her judgment.
Answering questions for the first time about her emails, Mrs. Clinton said she’s turned over to the State Department 55,000 pages of emails she deemed work-related, but said she got rid of the rest last year. She defended her decision to keep control of her emails by using a private account, saying previous secretaries did the same thing, and saying it was more “convenient” for her this way.
“I wanted to use just one device for both personal and work emails instead of two,” she said in a hastily called press conference after she spoke at the U.N. Conference on Women.
But her explanations are already coming under fire. One conservative group, America Rising PAC, said Mrs. Clinton has previously said she keeps both a BlackBerry and an iPhone.
Mrs. Clinton also said the email server was set up for her husband, former President Clinton, but his office told The Wall Street Journal that he has only sent two emails in his life, and both were during his time as president, which ended in 2001, or eight years before the private server was created.
Of the 62,320 emails in her account, her office said 30,490 were deemed public business, while the remaining 31,830 were deemed private.
Congressional Republicans said Mrs. Clinton shouldn’t take credit for turning over her emails since it was only done under pressure from the House committee probing the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina Republican and former federal prosecutor who is running the Benghazi probe, said Mrs. Clinton’s explanation raised more questions than it answered about her decisions. He said both the State Department and Mrs. Clinton have forfeited trust because they hid her private account from view for so long.
“That is why I see no choice but for Secretary Clinton to turn her server over to a neutral, detached third-party arbiter who can determine which documents should be public and which should remain private,” Mr. Gowdy said. “Secretary Clinton alone created this predicament, but she alone does not get to determine its outcome.”
The former first lady flatly rejected turning over her server, saying she’s already done enough in her mind to comply with her obligations.
“I chose not to keep my private personal emails â€” emails about planning Chelsea’s wedding or my mother’s funeral arrangements, condolence notes to friends as well as yoga routines, family vacations, the other things you typically find in inboxes,” she said.
She said open records laws leave it up to federal employees to determine what records are government-related and must be stored, and what communications are private and don’t have to be kept.
“I fully complied with every rule that I was governed by,” she said in a 20-minute press conference.
Mrs. Clinton began using the private server and email account on March 18, 2009. She said over the years, about half of the emails she sent from it were work-related and half were personal.
State Department rules reportedly prohibit employees from having more than one email account on a handheld device, and Mrs. Clinton said it was more convenient to use a single device, so she conducted all of her business from her new private account.
In a statement released by her office, her staff said she emailed more than 100 fellow government workers on their official accounts, and so her use of a private email “was widely known.” Her office said she specifically emailed other colleagues at their official accounts so that the emails would be part of the government’s records.
Mrs. Clinton left the State Department in early 2013 but did not provide her emails until late last year, when officials trying to respond to requests from the Benghazi probe noticed her private email address and asked for her correspondence.
Her office said her lawyers determined what were public emails by scanning recipients’ names and addresses and also looking for emails that contained words such as “Benghazi.”
Some cybersecurity analysts have said maintaining a private server was an invitation to hacking, but Mrs. Clinton said the system was kept on property guarded by the Secret Service, and she asserted there “were no security breaches.”
The State Department says it’s already turned over several hundred Benghazi-related emails to Mr. Gowdy’s panel and is trying to figure out how to handle the others. Mrs. Clinton said she wants to see them all made public, saying she believes voters will get a good picture of what she did during her four years as secretary.
Mrs. Clinton is pondering a bid for the Democrats’ 2016 presidential nomination, and the email scandal is the latest hiccup she’s faced as she tries to clear hurdles.
In her remarks to the press, she also took aim at Republican senators who signed a letter this week addressed to Iran, informing that nation’s leaders that Congress would likely reject a nuclear deal if it isn’t stringent enough. Mrs. Clinton called that either an attempt “to be helpful to the Iranians or harmful to the commander in chief in the midst of high-stakes international diplomacy.” Either way, she said, it was a “discredit” to the Republicans.
But almost all of the questions aimed at Mrs. Clinton related to her personal emails, which came to light in a New York Times report last week.
After seeming to defend Mrs. Clinton last week, the Obama White House this week has put distance between the president and his former opponent and later top foreign policy adviser, saying it was up to her to explain her decisions.
Mrs. Clinton did email Mr. Obama from her private account, but the White House said Mr. Obama wasn’t in charge of policing that.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the Benghazi probe, said Mrs. Clinton’s press conference Tuesday should put some of the controversy to rest.
“I hope the Benghazi Select Committee will return to its purpose of investigating the attacks in Benghazi instead of attempting to impact the 2016 presidential election,” he said. “If Republicans still want additional assurances that all official government records have been produced, they can follow standard practice and ask this secretary â€” and previous secretaries â€” to sign certifications under oath.”