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Hillary Clinton says her emails are now out in the open solely because she wanted them to be made public.
In an Aug. 17 interview with Iowa Public Radio, Clinton told reporter Clay Masters what she thinks will come of her controversial decision to exclusively use private email while secretary of state.
"I think this will all sort itself out," Clinton said. "And in a way, it’s kind of an interesting insight into how the government operates. Because if I had not asked for my emails all to be made public, none of this would have been in the public arena. But I want people to know what we did, I’m proud of the four years I was secretary of state."
We know that Clinton did ask the State Department to release her emails, and they are now being released on a rolling basis. But it isn’t quite right to say that if she hadn’t made that request, her emails would not now be "in the public arena."
A quick refresher on how and when this aspect of the email story unfolded:
- March 3: The New York Times broke the story that Clinton did not use a government email account for her entire tenure at the State Department.The story indicated it was unclear if the emails would be made public.
- March 4: Clinton tweeted, "I want the public to see my email. I asked State to release them. They said they will review them for release as soon as possible."
- March 5: Secretary of State John Kerry said in a press conference that the department was already reviewing the emails for release. Additionally, the State Department press office sent out a notice to reporters specifically responding to Clinton’s tweet that day.
- May 21: The State Department released the first batch of Clinton emails.
The State Department’s decision to release the emails as soon as possible was a response to Clinton’s specific request. But even if she had not made that request, there were other people pushing to make the emails public.
When the story broke, numerous media outlets and conservative organizations had already submitted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the State Department, looking for various records (including emails) connected to Clinton. Up until that point, the State Department had yet to produce the vast majority of those records.
Notably, Jason Leopold of Vice filed a FOIA request in November 2014 asking for all of Clinton’s emails, among other records, and he filed a lawsuit in January 2015 because of the State Department’s slow response. The State Department’s May 2015 response to Leopold’s lawsuit said the release of Clinton’s emails would satisfy a large portion of his FOIA request.
It’s reasonable to assume that these FOIA requests would have eventually made the emails public, whether or not Clinton made her own request.
Her emails, at least in part, might have been made public sooner, had she not exclusively used the private email address. Until Clinton turned over her emails to the State Department in December 2014 -- at the department’s behest -- the department did not have the full set of emails in its possession. This made Clinton’s emails basically inaccessible to FOIA requests until then. This wouldn’t have been the case if she used a government email address.
Take the case of Gawker: In 2013, Gawker filed a FOIA request for emails between Clinton and long-time adviser Sid Blumenthal after a hacker revealed emails that Blumenthal sent Clinton. Although the emails were already known to the public, the State Department told Gawker that no such correspondence existed.
In a previous article, we spoke with several experts who said Clinton’s email setup was tailor-made to circumvent FOIA requests.
Additionally, Clinton’s phrasing is disingenuous. It implies that requesting her emails to be made public was a proactive measure, in the interest of transparency and highlighting her record as secretary of state. Rather, it was reactive -- a response to the New York Times article that broke the story and its aftermath. If Clinton’s email practices hadn’t come to light, it’s possible she would never have made such a request.
Clinton said, "If I had not asked for my emails all to be made public, none of this would have been in the public arena."
The shred of truth here is that Clinton’s request was the driving force behind the State Department’s decision to release the emails as soon as possible. However, multiple pending FOIA requests for her emails likely would have made some of these emails public regardless.
It’s disingenuous for Clinton to treat her request as proactive transparency, when her practices protected her email from public scrutiny until she was out of office. We rate Clinton’s claim Mostly False.
Iowa Public Radio, "Hillary Clinton On Email Controversy, Education and Clean Energy," Aug. 17, 2015
New York Times, "Hillary Clinton Used Personal Email Account at State Dept., Possibly Breaking Rules," March 2, 2015
New York Times, "Using Private Email, Hillary Clinton Thwarted Record Requests," March 3, 2015
New York Times, "First Batch of Hillary Clinton Emails Captures Concerns Over Libya," May 21, 2015
Washington Post, "Associated Press sues State Department for Hillary Clinton records," March 11, 2015
Washington Post, "Why open records laws may not apply to all of Hillary Clinton’s State Dept.-era emails," March 5, 2015
Associated Press, "Up to 305 Clinton emails might have classified data," Aug. 17, 2015
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Leopold v. Department of State complaint, Jan, 25, 2015
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Declaration of John Hackett, May 18, 2015
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, judge’s order, May 27, 2015
PolitiFact, "Hillary Clinton's email: Did she follow all the rules?" March 12, 2015
FactCheck.Org, "Clinton’s email brag," Aug. 19, 2015
Email interview, State Department spokesman Alec Gerlach, Aug. 20, 2015
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