Judicial Watch: Former State Official Testifies He Warned State Department Officials about Clinton Email Issues; Concerned about Interference on Classified Clinton Benghazi Email Documents
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that John Hackett, the former Director for Information Programs and Services (IPS), which handles records management at the State Department, testified under oath that he had raised concerns that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s staff had “culled out 30,000” of the secretary’s “personal” emails without following strict National Archives standards. The full deposition transcript is available here.
John Hackett, as part of a series of court-ordered depositions and questions under oath of senior Obama-era State Department officials, lawyers, and Clinton aides, also revealed that he believed there was interference with the formal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) review process related to the classification of Clinton’s Benghazi-related emails.
Hackett served first as deputy director then as director for Information Programs and Services, which handles the FOIA request program and the retirement of and declassification of documents at the State Department. He was at the department from April 2013 to March 2016.
In March 2015, Clinton told reporters that she and her staff had deleted more than 30,000 emails “because they were personal and private about matters that I believed were within the scope of my personal privacy.” ABC News reported: “However, after a year-long investigation, the FBI recovered more than 17,000 emails that had been deleted or otherwise not turned over to the State Department, and many of them were work-related, the FBI has said.”
(Heather Samuelson, the Clinton lawyer who deleted the Clinton emails, separately testified to Judicial Watch that she received immunity from the Justice Department.)
Hackett answered during the deposition that he recalled a conversation that he had when he was at the State Department about requesting rules or parameters from Secretary Clinton or her attorneys that they used to segregate her personal and official work emails.
Hackett: I recall it wasn’t much of a conversation. I — I was — I mean, I have to say, it was emphatic to the Under Secretary of Management — and I didn’t speak in tones like that very often to him — you know, that we needed these — you know, the guidelines.
Judicial Watch: And when you said, the Under Secretary, are you referring to Patrick Kennedy [then-Under Secretary of State for Management]?
Hackett: I think I might have raised it to Rich Visek, the Acting Office of Legal Advisor, or Peggy — or Margaret Grafeld [an executive-level State Department FOIA official] raised it to Rich, as well.
Judicial Watch: Why did you feel so strongly that this was necessary, that they provide this information?
Hackett: Well, we heard that there were 50,000 or 60,000 emails, and that they had – “they” being the Secretary’s team — had culled out 30,000 of these. And which is — so we wanted to know what criteria they used. The standard from the National Archives is very strict. If there was — if there were mixed records, that would be considered a federal record. If it was mixed personal and mentioned a discussion, that would be — under the narrow National Archives rules, it would be considered a federal record.
Judicial Watch: And do you know if the emails that were returned by Secretary Clinton and her attorneys, if they followed that guideline to include an email that would include mixed information, personal and official?
Hackett: I don’t know.
Judicial Watch: Was a request ever made by Patrick Kennedy or anybody else who you raised this to?
Hackett: Ambassador Kennedy told me he would ask for the — the guidelines.
Judicial Watch: Do you know if the guidelines were ever provided to Patrick Kennedy?
Hackett: Not during my tenure at the State Department.
In August 2014 the State Department sent some documents to the Benghazi Select Committee that included a small number of Clinton emails. Hackett was alerted about this production. Hackett was asked if the State Department attorney who gave him the heads up said why he was providing the information. Hackett answered: “I think only because he knew that there was going to be publicity involved relating to this.”
Hackett was also asked by Judicial Watch about his concerns over 296 of Secretary Clinton’s Benghazi-related emails that were made available to Congress. Hackett testified that he had concerns regarding Catherine Duval, an attorney who worked for the Office of Legislative affairs (and who was also involved in the Obama-era IRS scandal):
Judicial Watch: And what was — what was your concern there, if you can elaborate?
Hackett: The concern was, in the 296 that there were other agencies’ equities in those documents, you know, potentially classified information. But any release decisions — and doing a FOIA review, we would normally make a referral back to that home agency. And Ms. Duval seemed to imply that she had already done that kind of coordination. But when we asked who she had coordinated with, they were people not familiar in our regular FOIA process.
Judicial Watch: And that’s people, when you — the people you are referring to, that’s — is it within just one agency, or is that dispersed through different agencies?
Hackett: It would be different agencies.
Hackett: Again, I mean, we were familiar with the — our — our parallel shops, you know, in other agencies, similar to IPS; we knew all the players there, the other Directors of the office. And, so, we contacted them, and they have not received any referrals from her. So we wondered who she was working with.
Judicial Watch also asked Hackett if, as he had previously stated, he “believed there was interference with the formal FOIA review process” in 2014? Hackett said he believed “that some bureaus were convinced, or — and analysts were convinced, once it was explained to them, to redact something but use a B5 exemption [which applies to deliberative process and allows government officials to discuss policy without the discussions being made public, or attorney client privilege] versus a B1 [national security] exemption.”
When Judicial Watch asked if he thought that was appropriate, Hackett responded “No, I didn’t,” and said he voiced that concern to his boss, Grafeld.
Hackett testified that his initial concern over Secretary Clinton’s email use arose in June 2013 when he said he viewed a photograph on the WTOP website of Clinton “sitting on a plane with a BlackBerry. “And that got me thinking that, well, what — what was that BlackBerry? Was it a government BlackBerry? And if so, where were the emails relating to that BlackBerry?” Hackett said.
Hackett testified he went to then-IPS Director Sheryl Walter “after seeing that photograph and suggested that we had to be careful about what sort of responses we made relating to Hillary Clinton’s emails, when it — if there was a No Record Located response that was being given out. In fact, I advised Sheryl that we should stop giving No Record Located responses until we come to — kind of come, you know — find out what that BlackBerry meant, come to ground about what was known about the former Secretary’s emailing habits.”
Asked how Walter responded, Hackett said “My recollection is, she agreed with me.”
“The other thing that we did, or I did at that time, was, we wanted to find out what this BlackBerry meant,” Hackett testified. “So we tasked — my recollection is, we verbally tasked Tasha Thian, the department’s Records Manager at that time, to look into the BlackBerry. And I believe Tasha contacted Clarence Finney in the Secretary’s office to ask him what he knew about the former Secretary’s emailing habits.”
Asked what Thian found out, Hackett responded: “I don’t recall exactly what she found out, but she didn’t find out much. Tasha also contacted the part of the State Department that’s part of the intelligence community, and Intelligence and Research Bureau, to ask to see if there were any classified emails on — in the classified systems that the Secretary might have produced. And I do recall that I think Tasha came back with the answer that they did not have any.”
Hackett went on to say that “There was a lot of confusion about exactly what that BlackBerry, you know, meant at that time. you had a concern as to how the department was responding to FOIA requests that related to Secretary Clinton’s emails after you saw the photograph of the Secretary holding a BlackBerry.… My recollection is — and I had only been there two months — that someone had told me that, — and I can’t remember — that she did not have an email account, a government email account. So there was obviously a contradiction here when, you know, there’s that photograph. So we were just trying to find out what was the ground truth. So that’s why I had a concern about issuing responses that said no records had been located.”
Hackett also said he knew of other employees in the State Department who were using their personal email accounts for government business and that “Some were senior officials, too.”
Asked who the senior officials were, Hackett responded: “I can’t remember the time frame, but the IG did a couple of studies, reviews. I think the Ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, was cited as using her personal email account. That’s one that comes to my mind.”
Hackett said: “We knew that some employees at times had a personal email address for Hillary Clinton, and that they might forward something to her at times. That’s the only thing that we knew. At that time I did not know who those employees were. I mean, the — the gist of that email I remember was one person saying to the other person, don’t use that — remember, you’re not supposed to use that email. But I don’t remember who those people were. I think one of them might have been in Public Affairs.”
“This disturbing testimony points to an Obama administration conspiracy to hide and destroy Hillary Clinton emails,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “Even worse, the testimony suggests Clinton’s Benghazi emails were under-classified in order to protect Hillary Clinton (and mislead Congress). Attorney General Barr needs to prioritize reopening the Clinton email investigation.”
On December 6, 2018, U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth ordered Obama administration senior State Department officials, lawyers and Clinton aides to be deposed or answer written questions under oath. The court ruled that the Clinton email system was “one of the gravest modern offenses to government transparency.” Judicial Watch’s discovery is centered upon whether Clinton intentionally attempted to evade the Freedom of Information Act by using a non-government email system and whether the State Department acted in bad faith in processing Judicial Watch’s FOIA request for communications from Clinton’s office.
The court-ordered discovery comes in Judicial Watch’s July 2014 FOIA lawsuit filed after the U.S. Department of State failed to respond to a May 13, 2014 FOIA request (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:14-cv-01242)). Judicial Watch seeks:
Copies of any updates and/or talking points given to Ambassador Rice by the White House or any federal agency concerning, regarding, or related to the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Any and all records or communications concerning, regarding, or relating to talking points or updates on the Benghazi attack given to Ambassador Rice by the White House or any federal agency.
Judicial Watch previously released:
- The deposition transcript of Heather Samuelson, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s White House Liaison at the State Department, and later Clinton’s personal lawyer, who admitted under oath that she was granted immunity by the U.S. Department of Justice in June 2016.
- The deposition transcript of Justin Cooper, former aide to President Bill Clinton and Clinton Foundation employee who registered the domain name of the unsecure clintonemail.com server that Hillary Clinton used while serving as Secretary of State.
- Interrogatory responses of E.W. (Bill) Priestap, assistant director of the FBI Counterintelligence Division, in which he stated that the agency found Clinton email records in the Obama White House, specifically, the Executive Office of the President.
- The deposition transcript of Jacob “Jake” Sullivan, Hillary Clinton’s senior advisor and deputy chief of staff when she was secretary of state, in which he in which he admits that both he and Clinton used her unsecure non-government email system to conduct official State Department business.
- The deposition transcript of Eric Boswell, former Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, in which he reveals that Hillary Clinton was warned twice against using unsecure BlackBerrys and personal emails to transmit classified material.