JUNE 24, 2016
This week we learned more about the problems former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s staff faced in keeping her separate email system running. They were, in fact, wrestling with matters of national security.
The revelations came thanks to our prying loose the email records referred to in the May 2016 State Department’s Office of the Inspector General report criticizing former Secretary of State Clinton’s email practices.
The OIG report makes reference to the emails but they were not released to the public until now. We obtained them under a June 14, 2016, court order issued by U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan in accordance with an unopposed motion by Judicial Watch to obtain the records. As an explosive Associated Press article makes clear, these new emails raise more questions:
Former Secretary Hillary Clinton failed to turn over a copy of a key message involving problems caused by her use of a private homebrew email server, the State Department confirmed Thursday. The disclosure makes it unclear what other work-related emails may have been deleted by the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
We received these documents in connection with our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit seeking records about the controversial employment status of Huma Abedin, Clinton’s then-deputy chief of staff (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:13-cv-01363)). The full case history of the Abedin employment lawsuit is accessible on the Judicial Watch website.
Here are the records:
A. March 17, 2009 memorandum prepared by S/ES-IRM staff regarding communications equipment in the Secretary’s New York residence identified a server located in the basement. (This email shows early on that the Obama State Department was very much aware of Mrs. Clinton’s email server, down to its very location in her house!)
B. In November 2010, Secretary Clinton and her Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations discussed the fact that Secretary Clinton’s emails to Department employees were not being received. The Deputy Chief of Staff emailed the Secretary that “we should talk about putting you on state email or releasing your email address to the department so you are not going to spam.” In response, the Secretary wrote, “Let’s get separate address or device but I don’t want any risk of the personal being accessible.” (This is the smoking gun email that Mrs. Clinton evidently withheld, according to the AP.)
C. In another email exchange, the Director of S/ES-IRM noted that an email account and address had already been set up for the Secretary and also stated that “you should be aware that any email would go through the Department’s infrastructure and subject to FOIA searches.”
D. OIG reviewed emails showing communications between Department staff and both individuals concerning operational issues affecting the Secretary’s email and server from 2010 through at least October 2012. These records show that State Department systems were altered to allow Mrs. Clinton special email system to operate on State Department computer networks. As Investor’s Business Daily opined, this “accommodation” also put the State Department computer networks at risk.
E. On January 9, 2011, the non-Departmental advisor to President Clinton who provided technical support to the Clinton email system notified the Secretary’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations that he had to shut down the server because he believed “someone was trying to hack us and while they did not get in i didnt [sic] want to let them have the chance to.” Later that day, the advisor again wrote to the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, “We were attacked again so I shut [the server] down for a few min.” On January 10, the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations emailed the Chief of Staff and the Deputy Chief of Staff for Planning and instructed them not to email the Secretary “anything sensitive” and stated that she could “explain more in person.”
These new records show that Secretary Clinton had zero interest in disclosing her emails to the public as the law requires. And the emails show that the Obama State Department gave special accommodations to Clinton’s email system, which the agency knew was unsecure, was likely hacked, and was not transparent under FOIA.
Earlier this week, we released the deposition transcript of former State Department IT political appointee Bryan Pagliano, who repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment right to not answer questions. Pagliano was the Clinton State Department IT official who reportedly provided support for the Clinton email system. The deposition transcript is available here.
Pagliano asserted his Fifth Amendment right to many key questions about the clintonemail.com system – including whether the system was set up to thwart the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA); any email-related discussions with Clinton and her top aides; how the system was set up; whether Clinton deleted government records; and recent discussions he may have had with Clinton’s lawyers about the email issue. Pagliano made the following statement in response to these and other questions:
On the advice of counsel, I will decline to answer your question in reliance on my rights under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Pagliano, at the direction of his lawyer, simply did not answer other questions, such as who was paying for his legal representation.
Pagliano is among seven depositions of former Clinton top aides and State Department officials that Judicial Watch has scheduled over the next two weeks. The next witness is Huma Abedin, Clinton’s then-deputy chief of staff and a senior advisor throughout Clinton’s four years as Secretary of State and who also had an email account on the clintonemail.com system. Abedin is scheduled to be deposed Tuesday, June 28. Under Secretary for Management Patrick F. Kennedy is scheduled to testify on Wednesday, June 29.
This discovery arises in a Judicial Watch FOIA lawsuit that seeks records about the controversial employment status of Huma Abedin, former deputy chief of staff to Clinton. The lawsuit was reopened because of revelations about the clintonemail.com system. (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:13-cv-01363)). Judge Sullivan ordered that all deposition transcripts be made publicly available.
As you might imagine, the media widely covered this development. The headlines include Clinton IT specialist invokes 5th more than 125 times in deposition, Clinton IT aide who set up email server asserts 5th Amendment in civil deposition, and Hillary’s secret server aide invokes Fifth Amendment ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY FIVE times.
Secretary Clinton was not the only top Obama administration skirting email rules and putting our nation’s security at risk.
A new batch 693 pages of Department of Homeland Security records revealing that Secretary Jeh Johnson and 28 other agency officials used government computers to access personal, web-based email accounts — despite an agency-wide ban due to heightened security concerns.
The documents also reveal that Homeland Security officials misled Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) when Perry specifically asked whether personal accounts were being used for official government business.
Moreover, the practice continued even after the Clinton email revelations.
We received the records in response to a February 2016 court order by a U.S. District Court following our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit (Judicial Watch v. Department of Homeland Security (No. 1:15-cv-01772)).
We filed the lawsuit in October 2015 after the DHS failed to comply with a July 2015 FOIA request seeking the following:
- All requests (in any form) submitted by senior DHS officials for waivers to use personal Web-based email accounts on government-owned computers.
- Copies of all waivers granted to senior DHS officials to use personal Web-based email accounts on government-owned computers.
We initiated this inquiry after a Bloomberg News report revealing that 29 high-level Homeland Security officials, including Johnson, obtained exemptions from a February 2014 agency-wide ban on the use of web-based email systems due to increased security concerns. The waivers were granted despite security officials’ warning of the risks of malicious attacks and data exfiltration from webmail use.
Included among the records is a February 19, 2014 memorandum from security officials at the Department of Homeland Security strongly warning: “According to the Office of the Chief Information Officer, access to webmail using DHS networks is responsible for almost half of all attempts to compromise DHS network security.” The memo explains that webmail use resulted in 14 Trojan-Horse attacks in August 2013 and 25 attacks in December 2013 on Homeland Security computer networks.
As a result, in the same memo, Department of Homeland Security officials imposed a total ban on employee use of web-based email systems:
New restrictions are being implemented that will no longer allow employee access to personal webmail sites from government computers [Emphasis added]. This action is being taken to strengthen cybersecurity and enhance protection of the Department’s computer networks. Effective tonight, access to webmail sites like AOL, Hotmail, Comcast, Gmail, Yahoo, and other email services will be prohibited.
The records reveal that despite this strict prohibition, Johnson was given an exemption from the ban on the first day of its implementation simply because he liked to check his personal email from the office everyday. In an April 7, 2014, email, DHS Deputy Director for Scheduling and Protocol Mary Ellen Brown wrote to DHS Chief of Staff for the Under Secretary for Management Vincent Micone: “Hi Vince – I wanted to flag that S1 [Secretary Johnson] accesses his [redacted] account every day and I didn’t know if we could add his computer to the waiver list? Let us know at your convenience. Thanks! ME”
Micone responds several minutes later: “ME, This will be done… no problem. Thanks, Vince”
The documents also reveal that on April 29, 2014, Connie LaRossa, then-director of legislative affairs for Homeland Security, was granted a waiver to use her web-based email account for official government business. The justification LaRossa used for requesting access to Yahoo email was that some congressional staffers wanted to send her “political information” that they “do not want to transmit via government mail.”
Despite LaRossa’s waiver, in answers prepared in April 7, 2014, for Rep. Scott Perry, in response to his query about the use of personal email accounts for official business, Homeland Security explicitly denied it was being done. In one question, Rep. Perry asked:
“Are DHS officials permitted to maintain private email accounts that are used to conduct official business? If so, who and under what circumstances?”
Homeland Security officially responded:
“To date, no requests have been approved to use a private email account for official business.”
Other top Homeland Security officials receiving waivers permitting them to use personal, web-based email on government computers included:
ANMS2 [Alejandro N. Mayorkas, deputy secretary]
Bunnell, Stevan E. [general counsel]
Chavez, Richard [director of the Office of Operations Coordination]
Gottfried, Jordan [Chief of Staff]
JCJ [Jeh Charles Johnson, secretary of Homeland Security]
Kronisch, Matthew [associate general counsel (Intelligence)]
Marrone, Christian [chief of staff]
Meyer, Jonathan [deputy general counsel]
Rosen, Paul [deputy chief of staff]
Shahoulian, David [deputy general counsel]
Silvers, Robert [deputy chief of staff]
Taylor, Francis X [undersecretary for intelligence and analysis]
Veitch, Alenandra [acting deputy assistant secretary]
Waters, Erin [director of strategic communication]
The use of personal email accounts on Homeland Security computers continued for more than a year after the official ban was put in place in April 2014, until July 2015 – over four months after revelations about Hillary Clinton’s controversial email practices.
In a July 20, 2015, email, Luke McCormack, then-Chief Information Officer of the Justice Department, ordered Jeanne Etzel, Executive Director of Homeland Security’s Next Generation Program, to “pull down” the personal “webmail” email accounts of the 29 Department of Homeland Security executives previously approved to use personal email accounts, except for that of Secretary Jeh Johnson [“S1”].
McCormack ordered this at the “DUSM’s direction” (Deputy Undersecretary for Management, Charles Fulghum). This order came the same day a Bloomberg story was published regarding Homeland Security officials “bending the rules” on personal email use on government computers. The next day, Secretary Johnson’s webmail access also was blocked.
Last October it was widely reported that the personal email accounts of both Jeh Johnson and CIA Director John Brennan had been hacked.
Jeh Johnson and top officials at Homeland Security put the nation’s security at risk by using personal email despite significant security issues. We know now that security rules were bent and broken to allow many these top Homeland Security officials to use “personal” emails to conduct government business.
This new Obama administration email scandal is just getting started. If the waivers were appropriate, they wouldn’t have been dropped like a hot potato as soon as they were discovered by the media.