On Monday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest revealed that President Barack Obama successfully emailed Hillary Clinton’s private email account while she was Secretary of State and claimed that he had no idea that Clinton was using her private account for all official business. Earnest also refused to say whether the White House had a responsibility to ensure that Clinton complied with federal laws regarding her emails.
Obama told CBS News over the weekend that he found out about Clinton’s private email scandal “the same time everybody else learned it through news reports.”
When The Hill’s Justin Sink first asked Earnest if one could conclude from Obama’s remarks that he and Clinton never emailed while she was in his administration, Earnest said, “that may be one conclusion to draw from the president’s remarks but it would not be an accurate one.”
“The president, as I think many people expected, did over the course of his first several years in office trade emails with his Secretary of State,” Earnest said. “I would not describe the number of emails as large, but they did have the occasion to email one another.”
Earnest said that “the point that the president was making is not that he didn’t know Secretary Clinton’s ‘s email address. He did. But he was not not aware of the details of how that email address and that server had been set up or how Secretary Clinton and her team were planning to comply with the Federal Records Act.”
When Sink asked about whether that meant Obama did not know he was emailing Clinton’s private account, Earnest said though he was “not going to get into a lot of details,” Obama “did email with Secretary Clinton. I assumed that he recognized the email address that he was emailing back to.” Earnest also added that emails that Obama sends “are properly maintained consistent with the Presidential Records Act” and that “would be true of any emails that he received from the Secretary of State.”
Later, when pressed by ABC’s Jonathan Karl about Obama’s CBS interview, Earnest said Obama “was referring specifically to the arrangement associated with Secretary Clinton’s email.”
“Yes, the president was aware of her email address; he traded emails with her. That shouldn’t be a surprise, that the president of the United States is going to trade emails with the Secretary of State,” he said. “But the president was not aware of the fact that this was a personal email server, and that this was the email address she was using exclusively for all her business. The president was not aware of that until that had been more widely reported.”
Earnest said that Obama is committed to the guidance that administration employees receive about using “official email for official business” and that is “one that he himself follows.” When Karl asked if Obama would have demanded that Clinton use an official government email account had he known that she was not, Earnest said he would not answer such hypotheticals.
Sink earlier asked Earnest to respond to Rep. Trey Gowdy’s (R-SC) comments over the weekend about huge gaps in the emails that Clinton has turned over and whether Gowdy’s comments suggest that Clinton has in fact not turned over all the relevant emails. Gowdy, who chairs the House Select Committee on Benghazi, mentioned that his committee has not received any emails regarding Clinton’s trip to Libya even though the iconic picture of Clinton from that day shows her on a mobile device.
“There are gaps of months and months and months. And if you think to that iconic picture of her on a C-17 flying to Libya, she has sunglasses on and she has her handheld device in her hand, we have no e-mails from that day. In fact, we have no e-mails from that trip, Gowdy said on CBS’s Face the Nation. “So, it’s strange credibility to believe that if you’re on your way to Libya to discuss Libyan policy that there’s not a single document that has been turned over to Congress. So, there are huge gaps. And with respect to the president, it’s not up to Secretary Clinton to decide what is a public record and what’s not.”
Earnest replied that if people had “specific questions about specific emails” then those questions should be raised “directly with State Department officials.” Later, Earnest suggested Clinton may just have been reading the news, texting, or sending Tweets on her blackberry in that photo instead of reading and sending email.
When Fox News’s Ed Henry asked Earnest when the White House counsel’s office found out that Clinton had her own server at home and when the White House learned Clinton had not turned over her emails to previous Congressional committees, Earnest said he did not know the answers to those questions. When Henry asked whether it was the White House’s responsibility to ensure that Clinton was complying with federal laws, Earnest said that it is the “responsibility of individual agencies to establish an email system and to make sure that those emails, as they are created, are archived and maintained.”
The Obama administration has been all over the map about when they found out about Clinton’s exclusive use of a private email account during her tenure as Secretary of State.
Last week, the Associated Press reported that the “White House counsel’s office was not aware at the time Hillary Rodham Clinton was secretary of state that she relied solely on personal email and only found out as part of the congressional investigation into the Benghazi attack.” Politico noted that key Obama, Clinton, and State Department staffers “knew in August that House Republicans had received information showing that the former secretary of state conducted official government business through her private email account,” but Clinton’s staff ultimately made the decision to keep quiet.
The State Department changed its story last week about when it first found out about Clinton’s private email account. As Politico noted, State Department spokesperson Marie Harf “and other state department officials” initially “said the decision to approach the former secretaries about searching their personal email accounts stemmed solely from a broad effort to update the State Department’s electronic record keeping efforts.” But Harf conceded on Friday that the Congressional investigation into the Benghazi attacks did in fact have a role in the the agency’s “decision to ask Hillary Clinton and three other secretaries of state to turn over copies of all work-related emails they sent or received on private accounts during their tenure.”
“Certainly, that’s a factor, but… as we’ve said now a few times, it was not any one thing that prompted this,” Harf said. “It would be grossly simplistic to say that any one thing prompted us to send this letter.
Senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, arguably Obama’s most trusted confidante, told Bloomberg Television last week that she has never received an email from Clinton and did not know if anyone in the Obama administration did either. Gawker’s John Cook revealed last week that he inquired about Clinton’s private email account in 2013 while doing a story on Sydney Blumenthal’s email hacks.
Clinton’s only comment on the private email scandal has been one Tweet. She is reportedly set to address the controversy within the next 48 hours, according to a CNN report.