Hillary to FBI: Yes, Colin Powell Warned Me, But I Used Private Email Scheme Anyway

Hillary Clinton and Colin Powell (Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty)
Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty

Hillary R. Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president, told FBI agents and three DOJ employees, whose names the FBI redacted, that she received an email from former secretary of state Colin Powell warning her that, whether her email was sent on private or government email systems, it was still to be treated as government property.

“After reviewing an email from POWELL with the subject line “Re: Question.” CLINTON state she did not want to guess precisely what POWELL was trying to say in paragraph three, but understood it to mean any communication of official business would be government records. This email did not factor into her decision to use a personal email account,” reads the entry from page 4 of the second part of the FD-302 summary of the conversation.

Clinton also told the FBI she never received a federal-issued Blackberry. But, at the time, the federal government issued tens of thousands of official Blackberries to military and diplomatic personnel during her 2009-2012 tenure leading the State Department. The Blackberry Clinton used was her private phone through ATT Wireless and the same one she used for both personal and official business when she was a senator.

Pressed again about her decision to use the private email, Clinton told the FBI that Powell told her he had kept his private email.

On page 11 of Part 1 of the FBI interview notes, Clinton told the FBI that Powell warned her to keep it quiet that she used her old Blackberry; it would be subject to federal records and access laws.

The former secretary of state told the FBI that she asked for an official secure Blackberry and that she has no idea why she was never issued one. But, roughly two weeks before the attacks on American personnel and facilities in Benghazi, Libya, Clinton’s private Blackberry was malfunctioning.

In the FBI narrative, which was part of the release, it said that the State Department Executive Secretary was ready to provide a secure federal government-issued Blackberry, but he warned Cheryl Mills, Clinton’s chief of staff, that the device would be subject to federal record keeping and access laws. Clinton aide Huma Abedin received the same warning, and Huma told the FBI that in the end it was decided that it was too much effort to transfer everything from Clinton’s old phone to the State-issued phone for a temporary situation.

Although the FBI released the documents as PDF files, they were PDFs of photographs of the pages, not PDFs converted from a word processing file, which means the pages cannot be searched for keywords.

A close reading of the FD-302 report from the FBI meeting with Clinton released Friday shows only one time Clinton talks about Powell and that was it. Granted, of the 58 pages, 15 are completely redacted, in addition to other swaths, so it could be in there.

Whatever it says somewhere else, there is no doubt here that:

  1. Colin Powell told Clinton he took the handling of government business and electronic correspondence very seriously;
  2. Powell told her something in “paragraph 3” that she did not understand or told the FBI she did not understand;
  3. Powell’s guidance to her about email was not a factor in her decision to set up her own off-the-grid email.

In a footnote, the FBI quoted the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General’s finding that Powell, who was once on the AOL board of directors, wanted to keep his AOL email account when he took over the State Department in 2001, and soon afterwards, the department set up OpenNet for non-secured emails for everyone at State to use.

Powell was a friend and ally of Clinton and routinely came to her defense. Although Republicans took Powell from a colonel to a four-star general and his tenure as President William J. Clinton’s chairman of the chiefs of staff was fraught with tension–yet, Powell’s tour as Secretary of State for President George W. Bush left nobody happy. In 2008, Powell endorsed Sen. Barack Obama (D.-Ill.) and ever since he has been on board and on-duty with the Democrats.

Powell even supported Clinton as she dealt with the controversy around her email usage, agreeing with Clinton that the out-of-control classification system was the problem, and he defended her handling of the attacks on Benghazi along the way.

That all changed when someone told The New York Times that Clinton told the FBI that Powell advised her to use the private email system.

In the Aug. 19 edition of the paper, the Times gives this account:

Pressed by the F.B.I. about her email practices at the State Department,Hillary Clinton told investigators that former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell had advised her to use a personal email account.

The account is included in the notes the Federal Bureau of Investigation handed over to Congress on Tuesday, relaying in detail the three-and-a-half-hour interview with Mrs. Clinton in early July that led to the decision by James B. Comey, the bureau’s director, not to pursue criminal charges against her.

The paper also relates an account written by journalist Joe Conason in his not-yet-released book, Man of the World: The Further Endeavors of Bill Clinton. In that book, of which the Times had an advance copy, Conason writes that Powell suggested the private email use at a dinner party with other secretaries of state.

All of that blaming Powell came to a quick halt when People Magazine caught up with Powell in the Hamptons:

On Friday, the New York Times reported that Clinton told FBI officials former Secretary of State Colin Powell had advised her to use a personal email account while she held the Secretary of State office herself.

“Her people have been trying to pin it on me,” Powell, 79, told PEOPLE Saturday night at the Apollo in the Hamptons 2016 Night of Legends fête in East Hampton, New York.

“The truth is, she was using [the private email server] for a year before I sent her a memo telling her what I did,” Powell added.

Why does the former diplomat believe this to be the case?

“Why do you think?” he said. “It doesn’t bother me. But it’s okay; I’m free.”

Powell also released a statement:

General Powell has no recollection of the dinner conversation. He did write former Secretary Clinton an email memo describing his use of his personal AOL email account for unclassified messages and how it vastly improved communications within the State Department.
At the time there was no equivalent system within the Department. He used a secure State computer on his desk to manage classified information. The General no longer has the email he sent to former Secretary Clinton. It may exist in State or FBI files.

It could be that the FBI has that email after all.

Although the FBI release of the interview notes is reported as a transcript, they are not official verbatim records.

FD-302 reports are not contemporaneous records because they are produced after the fact.

The FBI did not record their conversation with Clinton, nor put her under oath, which is their standard practice. Although the practice is looser than what one might expect from the G-Men, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who served as Vice President Richard “Dick” Cheney’s chief of staff, was convicted of making false statements and obstruction of justice based on an interview he had with the FBI. The prosecutor in the Libby case was appointed by James B. Comey Jr., now the director of the FBI.


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