The House Committee on Benghazi issued a subpoena for all the communications of Hillary Clinton related to Libya Wednesday, intensifying scrutiny on the former secretary of state’s role in handling the 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. Embassy.
The legal request was made days after it was revealed that Clinton exclusively used a private email address to conduct government affairs during her term as secretary, a move that went against federal guidelines and has been labeled by some observers as illegal.
The private email Clinton used is registered to the custom-made domain clintonemail.com, which was registered on Jan. 13, 2009, the first day of her Senate confirmation hearing for secretary of state. Normally, employees of the Department of State use an official email with a state.gov address.
The email server is located in a Clinton resident in Chappaqua, N.Y., according to The Associated Press.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), chairman of the committee, did not comment on the legality of Clinton’s email practices, citing lack of expertise.
“Separate from any statutory obligation, there’s an obligation, if you’re in public service, to produce and provide documents when you are asked so by a committee of Congress,” Gowdy said Tuesday.
The principal advantage of using an unofficial address is that emails are not immediately subject to scrutiny by the press under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). When Gawker Media filed a FOIA request in 2013 to the State Department asking for emails between Clinton and adviser Sidney Blumenthal, the department said it could not find those emails.
Blumenthal had been sending memos to Clinton about Libya in his unofficial capacity as a civilian, not as a federal employee.
Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, already has several federal lawsuits pending over delayed FOIA requests with the State Department, and The Associated Press said Wednesday that it was considering taking legal action for similar delays over requests for Clinton’s emails.
Under the Federal Records Act, all communications regarding government affairs must be preserved in a federal records system. Clinton has recently acted to comply with the law, turning over 55,000 pages of emails to the State Department two months ago.
“For government business, she emailed them on their department accounts, with every expectation they would be retained,” Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill said in a statement. “When the department asked former secretaries last year for help ensuring their emails were in fact retained, we immediately said yes.”
Still, Gowdy said that a subpoena is necessary because the government currently doesn’t have complete access to Clinton’s email archives, which are turned over to the State Department at Clinton’s discretion.
“The record custodians should be at the State Department. The record custodians should not be at her private law firm,” Gowdy said.
Several of Clinton’s top aides also allegedly used emails at the clintonemail.com domain. An anonymous source told Gawker that longtime Clinton aide Huma Abedin and Senior Advisor Philippe Reines both had emails at the domain. A confirmed email address for Abedin has been found.
Reines fired back at Gawker, accusing the organization of bias and unethical journalism.
“If your lying liar pants on fire source worked with me at a federal agency as you and they contend, did you ask them to provide even a single email exchange with my using that account?” Reines wrote in an email to several reporters. “Did you attempt to send an email to me at that domain, and if so did it go ‘through without bouncing’?”
It remains unclear why Clinton and at least one of her aides chose to use a homemade email server, which are costly to maintain and pose a security threat because of the constant technical updates needed to insure that the server is not vulnerable to hacking.
One peculiar feature of her private email server was that emails could be erased completely, in contrast to commercial servers like Google or Yahoo that save a copy even after the email is deleted, according to Bloomberg News.
The White House has refused to comment on the specifics of Clinton’s email practices, and withheld judgment on its legality.
“What you should do is that you should check with the State Department who is responsible for administering this policy,” press secretary Joshua Earnest said Tuesday.