Contrary to claims made a State Department spokeswoman, Hillary Clinton’s emails were not requested as part of some records-keeping process. They were requested after officials at the State Department realized they needed the documents to respond to information requests from the Benghazi Select Committee. If not for the Committee’s request, it’s unlikely the public would have learned about Hillary’s private email server.
Earlier this week, State’s spokeswoman Marie Harf was asked about the connection between a request for documents sent to several former Secretaries of State last October and the Benghazi Committee’s request for relevant emails. Harf offered a timeline which effectively denied any connection between the two: “The letter actually went out before we got requests from the Select Committee.” Harf added, “It went out … as part of our records maintenance upgrading and the process we go through. So that was what drove that.”
A report published in the NY Times Thursday evening directly undercuts Harf’s claim about what drove the request for Hillary’s emails. In fact that request was prompted by a request for relevant emails from the Benghazi Select Committee last summer. In response to that request, State Department officials held negotiations with Hillary’s attorneys starting last August. The Times reports that the decision to seek the documents from Clinton went all the way up to Secretary Kerry’s chief of staff, who approved it.
An exact account of the negotiations between State and Hillary’s camp is not provided by the Times, though the paper does note it included face-to-face meetings in Washington. What is clear is the sequence of events, which strongly suggests the letter sent by State in October was not part of an independent record-keeping process, but the outcome of earlier negotiations with Hillary’s staff. Two months after the negotiations began between “senior State Department officials” and Clinton’s attorneys, the State Department sent a letter requesting the emails they were seeking. Hillary’s staff then responded to that letter by providing some 55,000 pages of emails selected (by an unknown process) from her private account.
One curious fact is that the letter sent out by State, the one which immediately followed negotiations with Hillary’s lawyers, was directed not just at Clinton but at every former Secretary back to Madeleine Albright. The Times does not offer an explanation for this, but the timeline they provide raises the possibility that the breadth of the letter could have been a point of negotiation with Hillary’s team, i.e. an attempt to avoid singling-out Clinton even though her emails were the ones the State Department clearly wanted. The Times does note that, so far, no other recipient of the October request letter has responded with any documents.
One conclusion that it seems safe to draw from this sequence of events is that, were it not for the work of the Benghazi Select Committee, it is far less likely Hillary’s use of a private email server located in her New York home would have become public.
One remaining question raised by the Times‘ account is how spokeswoman Marie Harf got the timeline so wrong. Were negotiations between Hillary’s attorneys and “senior State Department officials” kept secret? Did Harf not hear about the request to seek Hillary’s emails as they made their way up the chain to John Kerry’s chief of staff? Harf seems remarkably out-of-the-loop for someone in her position.