WASHINGTON—Top officials working in the White House under former President Barack Obama knew Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was using a private email system for official government business three years before it became public, according to documents obtained by Judicial Watch.
“WH [White House] called—have we received a FOIA request from CREW on the topic of personal use of email by senior officials?
“Apparently other agencies have. If we have it, can you give me the details so I can call the WH back? I think they’d like it on quick turnaround. Thanks! Sheryl,” read a Dec. 20, 2012 email from Sheryl L. Walter, then-director of the Department of State’s Office of Information Programs and Services. Her email was addressed to several of her subordinates.
She was referring to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request her office received from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which, like Judicial Watch, is a Washington-based non-profit that advocates for transparency in government.
In the same email thread, Walters forwarded the CREW request to Heather Samuelson, who was then Clinton’s liaison to the Obama White House.
“Hi Heather—Copy attached, it was in our significant weekly FOIA report that we send to L and S/ES also. Do you want us to add you to that list? It’s a subset of things like this that we think likely to be of broader department interest. More detail below re this request.
“As a practical matter given our workload, it won’t be processed for some months. Let me know if there are any particular sensitivities. If we don’t talk later, happy holidays! All the best, Sheryl,” Walter told Samuelson.
There are multiple references within the documents that indicate White House knowledge of Clinton’s non-secure email use, according to Judicial Watch.
In a Jan. 10, 2013, email, for example, Walter asked Samuelson if she had determined whether other agencies received the CREW request.
Samuelson responded that “White House Counsel was looking into this for me. I will circle back with them now to see if they have further guidance.”
Walter’s office told CREW on May 10, 2013, that “no records responsive to your request were located.”
Ultimately, it became known that Clinton had generated more than 50,000 non-secure emails to and from other U.S. government officials and private individuals.
“These documents suggest the Obama White House knew about the Clinton email lies being told to the public at least as early as December 2012,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton in a statement on May 10.
“A federal court granted Judicial Watch discovery into the Clinton emails because the court wanted answers about a government cover-up of the Clinton emails. And now we have answers because it looks like the Obama White House orchestrated the Clinton email cover-up,” Fitton said.
Lamberth called Clinton’s use of the non-secure email system based in her home “one of the gravest modern offenses to government transparency.”
Federal law and regulations require all federal employees to use secure government communications systems for official business, especially when transmitting classified information and documents.
If using a private email or text message system is unavoidable, employees are required promptly to provide copies to agency officials.
It was not until March 2015 that Clinton’s use of the non-secure email system, instead of secure government email, became public knowledge.
The Clinton system used a home-brew server once located in a bathroom in the New York mansion she shared with former President Bill Clinton.
When a 2016 Department of Justice Inspector General report revealed that Obama was one of 13 high-ranking administration officials with whom Clinton regularly corresponded using the private system, White House press spokesman Josh Earnest admitted that “the president, as I think many people expected, did over the course of his first several years in office, trade emails with the secretary of state.”
The New York Times report sparked a huge scandal and an FBI investigation that shadowed Clinton’s 2016 campaign against Republican Donald Trump to become the nation’s first woman elected to the Oval Office, in great part because hundreds of classified documents were found on the private email server.
Then-FBI Director James Comey recommended no prosecution during a controversial July 6, 2016, news conference, despite Clinton’s “extreme carelessness.” Clinton backers contend Comey caused her defeat in November 2016.