Colin Powell also used personal email at State Dept., but was it illegal?
Hillary Clinton wasn’t the only secretary of state to use a personal email address while working at the State Department – Colin Powell also did so while serving under President George W. Bush. But a new report suggests neither may have acted illegally.
According to a report by Politico, an unidentified aide to Powell confirmed that the former secretary of state used a personal email account while working at Foggy Bottom. The aide added that Powell “generally” sent emails to State Department employees by way of their official government accounts, and that “he did not take any hard copies of emails” after he left office in 2005.
“He was not aware of any restrictions nor does he recall being made aware of any over the four years he served at State,” the statement to Politico reads. “He sent emails to his staff generally via their State Department email addresses. These emails should be on the State Department computers. He might have occasionally used personal email addresses, as he did when emailing to family and friends.”
The statement arrived just one day after the New York Times ran a report stating that Clinton’s exclusive use of personal email may have broken the Federal Records Act, which requires government employees to use agency accounts in order to store the contents of the emails for historical and transparency purposes.
However, a new report also show the Federal Records Act was not changed to address the use of private email accounts until after Clinton’s tenure ended, the Wall Street Journal reported. An overhaul was made in 2014 requiring any email sent from a private account to also be copied and forwarded to a State Department account.
Responding to accusations that Clinton violated federal law, her spokesman Nick Merril said she complied with the “letter and spirit of the rules,” adding that previous officials also used personal accounts.
The law explicitly barring agency officials from using private email accounts came AFTER Hillary's time at State: http://t.co/MNpakiole8
— Rebecca Ballhaus (@rebeccaballhaus) March 3, 2015
While Clinton’s (and Powell's, for that matter) use of private email may not have been illegal at the time, it’s possible that the move affected efforts by journalists to gather information about the State Department’s behavior during her tenure. Clinton’s team only recently turned over about 55,000 pages of emails from her time in the department, a fact that may reveal why multiple Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests failed to return any email correspondence from Clinton.
According to the Daily Caller, a State Department official said that archive searches made in attempt to fulfill FOIA requests involve documents that are in the possession of the agency at the time the request is made. Since Clinton was using a private email account whose contents were only turned over to the State Department two months ago, it’s possible that they would not have been picked up officials even though FOIA requests had been made.
Clinton’s camp also argues that since other State Department employees were using government accounts, Clinton’s correspondence would have been captured by government servers anyway. However, a new Gawker report, citing an unnamed source, states that at least two other high-level Clinton aides used personal emails too. If so, it means that communication between Clinton’s private email and the private email accounts of her aides would not have been captured by the State Department.