Powell told Clinton he used private email to foreign leaders

General Colin Powell (Ret) as the keynote speaker at the Annual Veterans Day Observance at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall on November 11, 2013.


By JENNIFER EPSTEIN | Bloomberg News | Published: September 8, 2016

NEW YORK (Tribune News Service) — Former Secretary of State Colin Powell gave Hillary Clinton blunt advice about skirting the rules on using personal email when she started work at the State Department, saying he used a private account on a personal computer to communicate with everyone from friends to foreign leaders.

“What were your restrictions on your use of your blackberry?” Clinton asked in an email to Powell on Jan. 23, 2009. “Did you use it in your personal office?” She said she heard that diplomatic security personnel “knew you had one and used it but no one fesses up to knowing how you used it!”

“I didn’t have a BlackBerry,” Powell responded. “What I did do was have a personal computer that was hooked up to a private phone line (sounds ancient.) So I could communicate with a wide range of friends directly without going through the State Department servers. I even used it to do business with some foreign leaders and some of the senior folks in the Department on their personal email accounts. I did the same thing on the road in hotels.”

The email from Powell, who was the top U.S. diplomat under Republican President George W. Bush, was released Thursday by a Democratic lawmaker as part of his party’s efforts to rebut Republican assertions that Clinton should be prosecuted for handling sensitive matters on a personal email system.

Portions of Powell’s advice were cited in a summary the FBI released last week on its investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server during her four years as secretary of State.

Powell wrote Clinton that the “real danger” was if the use of a personal device to conduct official business became known, the communications could be considered a public record and subject to disclosure requirements under the Freedom of Information Act. “Be very careful,” he urged her, adding that he had skirted public records laws “by not saying much and not using systems that captured the data.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, who released the email exchange, said in a statement that it “shows that Secretary Powell advised Secretary Clinton with a detailed blueprint on how to skirt security rules and bypass requirements to preserve federal records, although Secretary Clinton has made clear that she did not rely on this advice.”

“If Republicans were truly concerned with transparency, strengthening FOIA, and preserving federal records, they would be attempting to recover Secretary Powell’s emails from AOL, but they have taken no steps to do so despite the fact that this period — including the run-up to the Iraq War — was critical to our nation’s history,” Cummings, of Maryland, said.

In the email, Powell also gave Clinton unsolicited advice about diplomatic security agents, warning her that she’d find them “driving you crazy if you let them.” He said he didn’t let the agents in his house or on his property and got them to agree to let him drive on weekends without them following him. Although “they hated it,” they let him do it after he signed a letter releasing them from liability “if I got whacked while doing that.”

After reports last month that Clinton had told the FBI during her July interview with the agency that Powell had advised her to use a personal email account, Powell said he was being scapegoated. “Her people have been trying to pin it on me,” Powell said in August. “The truth is, she was using” a private e-mail server “for a year before I sent her a memo telling her what I did.”

A Clinton campaign spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, and Powell couldn’t be reached by email or through a call to his personal aide after business hours.

Separately on Wednesday, the House committee’s chairman, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, asked the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia to investigate the apparent deletion in 2015 of an archive of Clinton’s emails from her time at the State Department by an employee of Platte River Networks, a company that managed her private server.

Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, wrote that the erasure, which was revealed in FBI notes from its investigation of Clinton’s server released Sept. 2 and apparently occurred after the House Benghazi Committee ordered the preservation of such messages, “may amount to obstruction of justice and destruction of evidence by Secretary Clinton and her employees and contractors.”

The FBI said a technician said that he had been told by Clinton aides months earlier to purge the email archive. He said he did so belatedly when he heard about the uproar over her e-mails and realized he’d failed to do so.


With assistance from Ben Brody and Billy House
©2016 Bloomberg News
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