WASHINGTON, D.C. — Ashton Carter used his personal email account to conduct some of his government business during his first months as secretary of defense, the Pentagon admits.
That revelation comes in the midst of an FBI investigation into whether the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton, mishandled classified information. She used a private account for all her emails as secretary of state.
The New York Times, citing White House and Department of Defense officials and copies of the emails, first reported Carter’s use of his personal account to conduct some of his professional correspondence.
Since 2012, Pentagon policy has been to prohibit all employees from using personal email accounts to conduct government business. President Obama last year signed legislation that bars government employees from sending or receiving emails from personal accounts unless those messages were either copied or forwarded into federal accounts within 20 days.
It remains uncertain whether the Pentagon chief followed the DOD directive.
The Times quoted the defense officials as saying that Carter, who took office in February, continued to use his personal email account, in violation of DOD rules, for at least two months after it was publicly disclosed in March that Hillary Clinton had only used her personal email account as Secretary of State.
According to the Times, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough confronted Carter about his email habits in May, three months after Carter became defense secretary.
“After reviewing his email practices earlier this year, the Secretary believes that his previous, occasional use of personal email for work-related business, even for routine administrative issues and backed up to his official account, was a mistake,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook, in a statement.
“As a result, he stopped such use of his personal email and further limited his use of email altogether. He is confident that his work-related email has been and will continue to be preserved within the federal records system,” he added.
It is uncertain when Carter stopped using his personal email account and it remains unclear how many emails Carter sent and received from that account.
Cook said Carter does not directly email Pentagon officials or the U.S. government except “a very small group of senior advisers, usually his chief of staff,” adding that the defense secretary does not use his personal or official email “for classified material.”
In an interview with CBS’ “This Morning” on Thursday, Carter acknowledged using his personal account was “a mistake and it’s entirely my own,” emphasizing that none of the messages contained classified information and all were backed up for record keeping on the Pentagon email system.
“I have to hold myself to absolutely strict standards in terms of cybersecurity and doing things that are appropriate. I didn’t in this case,” declared the Pentagon chief.
In the statement, Cook said the defense secretary used his personal email account primarily to correspond with friends and family.
Sending and receiving messages through personal email accounts on unsecured servers leaves correspondence vulnerable to hacking and other cyberattacks. Cybersecurity has been deemed a top priority by the Pentagon.
The Times reported it had obtained 72 work-related emails that the Pentagon chief sent or received from his personal account.
The messages were on a range of government business-related tops, such as speeches, meetings, and news media appearances, the Times noted.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in a statement said it was “hard to believe that Secretary Carter would exercise the same error in judgment” given the attention Clinton’s personal email use received.
The Senate armed services panel has requested copies of the emails and will conduct its own review “to ensure sensitive information was not compromised,” said McCain.