A top aide to Hillary Clinton said the former secretary of state’s use of a private e-mail server to conduct government business on at least one occasion got in the way of Clinton’s work and left the aide frustrated, according to a transcript of the aide’s deposition released Wednesday.
Huma Abedin, Clinton’s deputy chief of staff and now the vice chair of her presidential campaign, was being deposed about the context of a November 2010 e-mail she sent Clinton that they “should talk about putting you on state email or releasing your email address to the department so you are not going to spam.” Prompting the note, according to the e-mail chain released last week by the State Department under the Freedom of Information Act, was a missed scheduled phone call, one of a number of communications mishaps detailed in Clinton's 55,000-page e-mail record.
Clinton responded in the 2010 exchange that she could get a “separate address or device” but said she didn’t “want any risk of the personal being accessible,” according to the e-mail chain. Abedin replied that the missed communications were “not a good system.”
“She seems frustrated because she's not able to do her job,” Abedin said, according to the transcript. “I seem frustrated back because I'm not.”
Abedin testified that “the personal” referred to non-government messages Clinton was also exchanging via the e-mail address rather than any improper treatment of government records.
“I would imagine anybody who has personal e-mail doesn't want that personal e-mail to be read by anybody else,” she said in the transcript.
Work at State
Abedin, whose close relationship with Clinton has led her to be described as a surrogate daughter, was one of a handful of aides to have her own account on the clintonemail.com server, which she testified she received because she was losing her former addresses as part of Clinton's Senate office and 2008 presidential campaign.
The deposition was conducted as part of a lawsuit brought by the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, which sued the State Department under FOIA in 2013 to obtain access to records regarding Abedin’s simultaneous employment at the State Department, the Clinton Foundation, and a consultancy that catered to international clients. (Abedin’s lawyers say she didn’t do work that would have posed a conflict of interest.) As part of that lawsuit, the presiding judge granted Judicial Watch permission to engage in what he called “limited” discovery into the server and department records practices.
She said she saw the decision by Clinton, who like many lawmakers also used a private e-mail while in the Senate, to use a private address as the top U.S. diplomat as a continuation of “what she was doing before she arrived at the State Department.”
Clinton, Abedin testified, had experienced issues with the Senate e-mail address. Abedin also said that, at the State Department, she didn't receive advice not to use personal e-mail and didn't believe Clinton had either. (The use of personal e-mail was technically permitted so long as records were guarded and returned, but it was generally frowned upon and a May inspector general report said Clinton did not seek permission to use a private e-mail server and would not have received it.)
In addition to Clinton's difficulties getting in touch with a foreign official in 2010, Abedin testified about other communications problems—some of which prompted other, ultimately futile attempts to alter Clinton’s communication system—while stressing that the state.gov suffered problems as well and that Clinton did most of her business in person or over the phone.
Abedin said she was not aware of any provisions for the preservation of Clinton’s records at the end of her tenure in early 2013 and also testified that Clinton’s team neglected to tell the director of records management about the private server at the time.
“We all wish we could go back and that not be the case,” she said. “It did not occur to those of us who were involved.”
Asked if “Clintonemail.com was used by anyone to thwart FOIA obligations,” she responded, “Absolutely not.”
Two witnesses to Abedin's testimony described her as cooperative. A lawyer for Clinton, David Kendall, declined to comment. A lawyer for Abedin, Miguel Rodriguez, declined to comment.
Nick Merrill, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign, said that Judicial Watch “represents everything that is wrong with our political system.”
“Manufacturing wrongdoing has been central to their singular agenda since their inception,” Merrill said in a statement Wednesday. “Worse, they do this by clogging up the courts at the expense of tens of millions of tax-payer dollars. Justice is the last thing they seek. They are only interested in headlines, and have made a complete mockery of our system. And if you want proof, just look at this latest round of leaks that are contradicted by their own transcripts. It's truly disgraceful.”
Freedom of Information
The server set-up has dogged Clinton’s presidential run and provided a frequent attack line for her opponents, including presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Trump has suggested she compromised U.S. secrets with her communications practices and should face jail.
The testimony came on the same day that Republicans on the House Benghazi Committee, which helped uncover Clinton’s e-mail practices, released their final report. It criticized State Department decision-making surrounding the attack on a diplomatic facility in Libya in 2012 that killed four Americans, but contained few revelations about Clinton.
On Monday, Judicial Watch released a cache of e-mails from Abedin that contained messages between her and Clinton. Like some released earlier, the documents were obtained by Judicial Watch as part of other FOIA litigation and contained some e-mails not found in the messages Clinton’s lawyers had sent to the State Department. Clinton has publicly said she gave the State Department all relevant e-mails.
The Clinton campaign did not respond to earlier requests for comment by Bloomberg Politics on the completeness of her record, but another spokesman, Brian Fallon, said on Monday that Clinton had turned over “all potentially work-related emails” still in her possession when she received the 2014 request from the State Department, according to the Associated Press. “Secretary Clinton had some emails with Huma that Huma did not have, and Huma had some emails with Secretary Clinton that Secretary Clinton did not have,” Fallon said last week, according to AP.
The president of Judicial Watch, Tom Fitton, said the e-mails released Monday show Clinton “did not turn over all” records in her possession and raised questions about what other records should have been produced. “I keep on asking, What else is out there?” Fitton said.
In one message released Monday from early in her tenure, Clinton appeared to fret about records management practices.
“I have just realized I have no idea how my papers are treated at State,” Clinton wrote to Abedin in March 2009. “Who manages both my personal and official files?”
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said, “Secretary Clinton’s paper files were appropriately filed and archived.” Toner repeated in a statement that Clinton had said repeatedly that the 55,000 pages represented “all federal email records in her custody.”
Abedin also said in testimony that she didn’t remember getting any training on FOIA and said she was never asked to search her records pursuant to a request under the law.
“I didn't have a practice of managing my mailbox other than leaving what was in there sitting in there,” she said. “They just lived on my computer.”
E-mails released by the State Department show she occasionally requested fixes from fellow Clinton aides when her e-mail stopped working and was notified of a server shut-down in 2011 when one aide feared a hack.
During his June 23 deposition in the matter, Bryan Pagliano, a former Clinton aide who helped maintain the server, invoked his Fifth Amendment rights, according to a transcript released by Judicial Watch. He refused to answer more than 100 questions on issues including how the server was set up, whether it was used to thwart the Freedom of Information Act and whether Clinton deleted government records. A lawyer for Pagliano, Mark MacDougall, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Records released by Judicial Watch show Abedin and Pagliano discussing maintenance of the server and detail on at least one occasion a possible hack attempt.
—With assistance from Andrew M. Harris.