Hillary Rodham Clinton exclusively used a personal email account to conduct government business as secretary of state, State Department officials said, and may have violated federal requirements that officials’ correspondence be retained as part of the agency’s record.
Mrs. Clinton did not have a government email address during her four-year tenure at the State Department. Her aides took no actions to have her personal emails preserved on department servers at the time, as required by the Federal Records Act.
It was only two months ago, in response to a new State Department effort to comply with federal record-keeping practices, that Mrs. Clinton’s advisers reviewed tens of thousands of pages of her personal emails and decided which ones to turn over to the State Department. All told, 55,000 pages of emails were given to the department.Mrs. Clinton stepped down from the secretary’s post in early 2013.
Her expansive use of the private account was alarming to current and former National Archives and Records Administration officials and government watchdogs, who called it a serious breach.
“It is very difficult to conceive of a scenario – short of nuclear winter – where an agency would be justified in allowing its cabinet-level-head officer to solely use a private email communications channel for the conduct of government business,” said Jason R. Baron, a lawyer at Drinker Biddle and Reath who is a former director of litigation at the National Archives and Records Administration.
A spokesman for Mrs. Clinton, Nick Merrill, defended her use of the personal email account and said she has been complying with the “letter and spirit of the rules.”
Under federal law, however, letters and emails written and received by federal officials, such as the secretary of state, are considered government records and are supposed to be retained so that congressional committees, historians and members of the news media can find them. There are exceptions to the law for certain classified and sensitive materials.
Mrs. Clinton is not the first government official – or first secretary of state – to use a personal email account on which to conduct official business.
But her exclusive use of her private email, for all of her work, appears unusual, Mr. Baron said. The use of private email accounts is supposed to be limited to emergencies, experts said, such as when an agency’s computer server is not working.
“I can recall no instance in my time at the National Archives when a high-ranking official at an executive branch agency solely used a personal email account for the transaction of government business,” said Mr. Baron, who worked at the agency from 2000 to 2013.
Regulations from the National Archives and Records Administration at the time required any emails sent or received from personal accounts be preserved as part of the agency’s records.
But Mrs. Clinton and her aides failed to do so.
The Obama administration’s Department of Justice shut down an attempt to force the Internal Revenue Service to search for Lois Lerner’s missing emails at off-site storage facilities.
The IRS never looked for Lerner’s backup email tapes at the West Virginia storage facility where they were being housed. Treasury deputy inspector general Timothy Camus told Congress that the IRS never asked IT professionals at the New Martinsville, W.V. storage site for the backup tapes. Camus only found the backup tape for Lerner’s missing 2011 emails about two weeks ago.
But the Obama administration knew that emails were stored at off-site facilities, and even shut down a legal request to send somebody to go look for them.
“We said in court that there are off-site servers where all IRS emails are stored,” lawyer Cleta Mitchell told The Daily Caller. Mitchell represents the voter-ID group True the Vote in its lawsuit against the IRS over improper targeting. Shortly after it was revealed last summer that the IRS was missing Lerner’s emails, Mitchell petitioned U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton for an independent forensic examiner to be appointed to investigate the missing emails.
Mitchell referred to the IRS’ off-site storage facilities in West Virginia and Pittsburgh in court in July. But DOJ lawyers representing the IRS and the Treasury inspector general argued that Mitchell could not even discuss the existence of the storage facilities in her capacity as a lawyer.
“The Department of Justice lawyers objected to that and said I shouldn’t even be allowed to mention these off-site servers without sworn affidavits,” Mitchell told TheDC. “They meant that I was trying to testify to the judge without bringing in witnesses with sworn affidavits.”
Mitchell’s motion to get an independent forensic examiner was denied. The IRS’ internal investigation never headed to West Virginia, and the Treasury inspector general’s investigation managed to find a pertinent tape in West Virginia a mere two weeks before last Thursday’s House Oversight hearing. One of the IRS employees tasked with finding data on Lerner’s crashed hard drive was legally blind.
Mitchell’s statement about the off-site servers was clear as day, according to court transcripts obtained by TheDC.
“I’m advised that the IRS maintains servers that are in different states in different locations and that IRS employees are advised that their emails are never lost,” Mitchell said in court, according to the transcripts.
“That’s what I’ve been told as far as my emails here,” the Court replied.
“And I have had individuals who worked with, for the IRS from all across the country who have communicated that to me,” Mitchell continued. “And they say – I hear from government employees, retired and active, who say what is being said is not possible. It is not plausible and it is contrary to what we are told as employees of the IRS.”
Mitchell requested “the opportunity to at least have some expert look at whether the perimeters of the investigation are complete and… will fully cover all of the potential ways or places in which this investigation should look or take into consideration.”
But the email tapes sat there in West Virginia, alone and unexamined.
DOJ did not return a request for comment for this report.
As TheDC reported, the IRS fired its email-storage contractor Sonasoft just weeks after Lerner’s email-deleting computer crash.
Government employees have been caught stealing students’ personal information to apply for loans, credit cards and set up new cell phone accounts,Daily Mail Online has learned.
Reports on breaches of staff conduct inside the Department of Education shows how workers stole social security numbers from a database while a man was fired for trying to look up President Barack Obama’s student loan records.
Cyber security campaigners warned that the failure to protect sensitive information because of ‘bureaucratic incompetence’ is just the ‘tip of the iceberg’.
Insiders involved in illicit breaches are often overlooked, simply because the public think hackers and cybercriminals are more often to blame, they said.
Lee Tien, senior staff attorney and Adams Chair for Internet Rights at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told the Daily Mail Online ‘insiders are frequently part of the breach story’.
He added that entities – especially the government – need to uphold their duty to safeguard other people’s personal information.
Berin Szoka, the president of Tech Freedom, insisted some of the privacy issues come from within the government.
‘As usual, the real privacy problem is government. Big Brother surveillance at the NSA is bad enough,’ he told the Daily Mail Online.
‘But bureaucratic incompetence can be far bigger problem. Failing to protect sensitive student loan data is just the tip of the iceberg of poor data security inside government.’
According to the documents – obtained by the Daily Mail Online through a Freedom of Information Act request – a number of government employees set up an illicit scheme to steal students’ information.
One woman created a bogus Department of Education account to access the National Student Loan Data System to aid her criminal plot.
While accessing the records, she would extract information from individual accounts.
She swapped around the last four digits of her SSN with those of another during the scheme, and set up the fake identity to apply for credit cards, personal loans and set up a Sprint cell phone account.
An internal investigation within the department found she went into the database 24 times between 2006 and 2009 to retrieve the information.
Just 24 hours after searching through the database on one occasion in 2009, the documents revealed she applied for a personal loan.
The unidentified employee was arrested and charged in 2011 for stealing more than $500 using the stolen details.
One of the documents related to her case reads: ‘It appears [the employee] did not have a business reason to run either name in the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS).’
After pleading guilty, she was sentenced to 18 months in jail with a 17-month suspended sentence. However, according to the documents, the employee only served a month in prison and was then given authorized work by a judge.
It’s not known what happened to the other staff members involved in the scheme.
In 2011, a man violated department protocols by trying to access ‘Barrack [sic] Obama’s student loans records. According to the documents he consistently spelled the president’s name wrong – using two ‘r’s.
The employee involved was not prosecuted, but lost his job after departmental staff also discovered he had misused his government-issued travel card.
It is not clear why he tried to access the records as Obama has made the majority of his financial history public knowledge.
He paid off his student loans in in 2004 while he was in the Illinois State Senate. He took out $42,753 in loans to pay for his Harvard Law School tuition while Michelle applied for $40,762 in loans for her Harvard Law education.
The couple carried their debt for 25 years, but the president is believed to have paid it off using $1.9million worth of royalties from his book, Dreams of My Father. It was reissued and became a best seller after his speech at the Democratic convention in 2004.
A third Department of Education employee was investigated in 2014 for using his government email to promote his own business at the taxpayers’ expense. Some of the documents involved have been heavily redacted.
The analysis revealed there were approximately 166 calls totaling 616 minutes or approximately 10 hours of calls during on-duty hours. His calls cost the government approximately $478.36 based on his hourly salary.
He admitted that he shouldn’t have used government equipment – including a scanner, printer, phone and email – for his own personal gain, but it’s not clear what type of business he was operating or whether he was punished.
Another part of the document trove described the investigation into Joseph Butler, a veteran department employee from Clarkstown, Georgia, who accessed child pornography for years.
According to reports he was able to filter his computer activity and get around filtering software preventing government staff from visiting illicit websites.
More than 70 disturbing images were founded embedded in several Microsoft Word documents that were then saved to his government computer.
His Internet browsing history also revealed he had searched for child nudity and pornography.
Butler used his computer to download images onto CD-ROMs, which federal agents found during a search of his home in July 2011. Agents also found graphic stories Butler had written about children.
He is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence. When he is released he will have to sign up to the sex offenders register and completed five years of supervision.
The Department of Education did not comment on the revelations.
However a report in 2015 addressing ‘management challenges’ highlighted ‘repeated problems in IT security and noted increasing threats and vulnerabilities to the Department’s systems and data.’
The document said more steps needed to be taken to make sure federal employees did not breach the database.
One of the factors considered was a two-step authorization process – but it is yet to be implemented.
In September 2013 the Office of the Inspector General – who oversee the Department’s management – warned officials there were weaknesses led to ‘unauthorized accesses to private information.’
If not for cell phone video, 47-year-old disabled veteran Douglas Dendinger could be going to prison – because of an apparent coordinated effort by Washington Parish, La. cops and prosecutors who falsely accused him of battery and witness intimidation.
As New Orleans’ WWL reports, Dendinger’s two-year nightmare began on Aug. 20, 2012, when he was paid $50 to serve a court summons on behalf of his nephew against Bogalusa police officer Chad Cassard in a police brutality lawsuit.
Dendinger handed Cassard a white envelope containing the documents and says he went on his way. But 20 minutes later, police showed up to Dendinger’s house and arrested him. He was put in jail on charges of simple battery, obstruction of justice and intimidating a witness.
Two of those charges are felonies, and a prior cocaine conviction on Dendinger’s record threatened to land him in jail for a long time as a repeat offender.
But Dendinger was confident that a mistake had been made and that he would be released without cause since two prosecutors and several police officers had seen him hand over the summons peacefully.
But that’s not what happened.
A year after the incident, then-District Attorney Walter Reed brought charges against Dendinger. His case was backed by two prosecutors who asserted that Dendinger had assaulted Cassard. Seven witness statements also supported the case.
Cassard made the same claim, writing in a voluntary statement that Dendinger “slapped him in the chest” when he served the summons.
Pamela Legendre, a staff attorney who witnessed the hand-off, said she thought Dendinger had punched Cassard.
Bogalusa police chief Joe Culpepper said that Dendinger had used “violence” and “force.”
And another witness said in a deposition that Dendinger used such force when he served the summons that Cassard flew back several feet.
“It wasn’t fun and games, they had a plan, the plan was really to go after him and put him away. That is scary,” Philip Kaplan, the attorney representing Dendinger in his civil rights case, told WWL.
“I realized even more at that moment these people are trying to hurt me,” Dendinger told the news station.
Luckily for Dendinger, his wife and nephew had filmed him that day in order to prove that the court papers had been served.
Grainy video of the exchange shows Dendinger handing Cassard the summons and the former police officer walking away in the opposite direction. Though the video aired by WWL does not show the entire encounter, what it does not show is Dendinger slapping anyone or acting aggressively during the crucial moment when he served the summons.
The video also shows that the witness who claimed that Denginger’s force pushed Cassard back several feet had his back turned as the scene unfolded.
After Reed was forced to recuse his office from the case, it was referred to the Louisiana attorney general who quickly dropped the charges against Dendinger.
Rafael Goyeneche, president of the New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission, told WWL that after viewing the video he did not see Dendinger commit battery on Cassard and that the officers and prosecutors involved could be looking at serious ethics charges.
“I didn’t see a battery, certainly a battery committed that would warrant criminal charges being preferred,” Goyeneche said.
“It’s a felony to falsify a police report,” Goyeneche continued. “So this is a police report, and this police report was the basis for charging this individual.”
Kaplan made the obvious point: ”If this was truly a battery on a police officer, with police officers all around him, why isn’t something happening right there?”
Senator Harry Reid, D-Nev., illegally used Senate resources for his campaign, according to a conservative watchdog group.
The report by the group states that Reid illegally met with his caucus in order to promote his re-election campaign, which would be a violation of Senate ethics rules.
The complaint was filed by the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT), a conservative watchdog group founded by former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker.
According to Whitaker:
“The only reported topic [of the meeting] was to announce, ‘I’m running,’” Whitaker wrote in the complaint. “Even Politico admitted the meeting – attended by more than fifty Senate staffers – was ‘unusual.’”
Whitaker alleges that the meeting could even violate federal law.
The meeting took place in the Capitol building’s Mansfield Room.
A story in Politico alleges that Reid kicked off the meeting by saying that he planned on running for reelection next year.
The complaint states that Reid “reportedly announced his reelection campaign from the confines of an official Senate meeting room located mere steps from the Senate floor.”
The complaint further reads:
“Federal law prohibits the use of official funds for any use other than that for which they were appropriated,” the complaint says. “The Congress has not appropriated money for the day-to-day operation of the Senate for campaign use.”
According to Senate ethics rules, senators cannot use official resources “to assist campaign organization.” Also, Senate rules prohibit “campaign activity in federal buildings.”
Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Reid, stated when asked to respond to the complaint: “do you mean a story taking it seriously?”
The IRS’s inspector general confirmed Thursday it is conducting a criminal investigation into how Lois G. Lerner’s emails disappeared, saying it took only two weeks for investigators to find hundreds of tapes the agency’s chief had told Congress were irretrievably destroyed.
Investigators have already scoured 744 backup tapes and gleaned 32,774 unique emails, but just two weeks ago they found an additional 424 tapes that could contain even more Lerner emails, Deputy Inspector General Timothy P. Camus told the House Oversight Committee in a rare late-night hearing meant to look into the status of the investigation.
“There is potential criminal activity,” Mr. Camus said.
He said they have also discovered the hard drives from the IRS’s email servers, but said because the drives are out of synch it’s not clear whether they will be able to recover anything from them.
“To date we have found 32,744 unique emails that were backed up from Lois Lerner’s email box. We are in the process of comparing these emails to what the IRS has already produced to Congress to determine if we did in fact recover any new emails,” Mr. Camus said.
Democrats questioned the independence of Inspector General J. Russell George, who is overseeing the investigation, saying he’s injected politics into his work.
Rep. Gerald Connolly, Virginia Democrat, said Mr. George is refusing to turn documents over to him, prompting a heated reply.
“You’re not entitled to certain documents,” Mr. George said.
“Oh really? We’ll see about that, won’t we,” Mr. Connolly replied, saying that he questioned whether Mr. George could be trusted if he’s refusing to provide documents, yet is in charge of an investigation into whether the IRS stonewalled document requests.
The hearing was the latest chapter in the complex investigation into the IRS’s targeting of tea party groups for special scrutiny.
Several congressional committees are still probing the matter, and both the inspector general and the Justice Department are conducting criminal investigations.
In a 2013 report, the inspector general said the IRS had improperly targeted conservative and tea party groups’ applications for nonprofit status, asking repeated intrusive questions and delaying their applications well beyond a reasonable time. Some of those groups are still waiting, with their applications now pending for years.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican and Oversight Committee chairman, said the ongoing investigations undercut President Obama’s assertion last year that there was no evidence of corruption in the IRS’s targeting.
“I have no idea how the president came to such a definitive conclusion without all the facts,” he said.
The IRS belatedly told Congress it may have lost some of Ms. Lerner’s emails after her computer crashed, and asserted that the backup tapes didn’t exist.
But under questioning from Mr. Chaffetz, Mr. Camus said it took him only two weeks to track down the backup tapes, and when he asked the IRS depository for them, the workers there said they’d never been contacted by the agency itself.
Republicans said that was stunning because IRS Commissioner John Koskinen repeatedly assured Congress the emails were irretrievably lost.
“I think they have misled or lied to the committee,” said Rep. John L. Mica, Florida Republican.
Mr. Camus said they were clued in to the 424 new tapes they just found a couple of weeks ago after realizing the IRS hadn’t given over a key document. They demanded that document, and realized it showed hundreds of other tapes existed.
Democrats said the investigation has dragged on too long and been too expensive, pointing to the IRS’s estimate that it has spent $20 million on staff and equipment to try to comply with the committee’s request.
Ms. Lerner, who oversaw the unit of the IRS that scrutinized nonprofit groups’ applications, is a central figure in the investigations.
After belatedly discovering that some of her emails weren’t being recovered, the IRS did try to reconstitute them by asking other employees to dig through their emails to see if they were the recipients of any messages that involved her. That did produce some of the missing emails.
Democrats said the GOP seemed to be insinuating Ms. Lerner had purposely crashed her hard drive to hide emails – though she herself pushed to try to get messages recovered.
Democrats also questioned why the hearing was happening now, given that Mr. Camus and Mr. George both stressed that their findings are preliminary and could change as they learn more.
“It seems that the best course of action would be to have the inspector general come back when his report is complete,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the panel.