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Linda Qiu
By Linda Qiu July 12, 2015

When did Hillary Clinton wipe her email clean?

Questions about Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as Secretary of State aren’t going away.

One part of the story that remains unknown, CNN’s Brianna Keilar says, is when exactly Clinton wiped her email server clean.

The answer could be an important marker in the Clinton email story, as House Republicans continue to press for answers to Clinton’s reaction to the death of four U.S. officials in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012.

Keilar, who interviewed Clinton on July 7, said on CNN's State of the Union July 12 that she was "surprised" Clinton "didn’t show a little more contrition" about her use of a private email account and seemed a bit irked by Clinton’s spin that she "never had a subpoena." (She did, though Keilar and Clinton interpreted the point differently.)

"What the campaign will say is I was asking her about facing a subpoena that she wiped her server. They’ll say that’s not true," Keilar said. "But the other thing is, the campaign hasn't been clear about when she wiped her server of her work emails, so there's no way to even really completely fact-check what she's saying, because they don't want to get into all of the details of those things."

We were curious about Keilar’s claim that Clinton "hasn’t been clear" about when she wiped her server clean.

The Clintons began using the private server in question when President Bill Clinton was in office, Hillary Clinton said at a press conference March 10, 2015. According to Clinton, it contained around 30,000 personal emails and 30,000 work-related emails from during her tenure as Secretary of State.

Clinton said she deleted the personal emails — "emails about planning Chelsea's wedding or my mother's funeral arrangements, condolence notes to friends as well as yoga routines, family vacations," she said — sometime in the fall of 2014 and sometime after the State Department asked on Oct. 28 for Clinton’s work-related correspondence.

Clinton turned over 55,000 pages of emails and communication relevant to her role as head diplomat to the State Department on Dec. 5. Sometime after that, the entire server was "wiped clean," said Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican and chairman of the House Benghazi committee, on March 27.

When exactly did that happen? Keilar has a point when she says it’s unclear.

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The Clinton campaign told us the work-related emails were deleted off the server shortly after they were turned over to the State Department on Dec. 5. They referred us to a letter Clinton’s lawyer David Kendall wrote to Gowdy. The Benghazi committee subpoenaed Clinton’s emails on March 4, 2015, and Gowdy asked for the physical server about two weeks later on March 19.

According to Kendall’s letter, dated March 27, the emails relevant to Benghazi were in the State Department’s possession and the committee had no legal right to the server. What’s more, what Gowdy wanted no longer existed.

"During the fall of 2014, Secretary Clinton’s legal representative reviewed her [email protected] account for the time period from Jan. 21, 2009, through Feb. 1, 2013," Kendall wrote. "After the review was completed to identify and provide to the Department of State all of the secretary's work-related and potentially work-related emails, the secretary chose not to keep her non-record personal emails and asked that her account (which was no longer in active use) be set to retain only the most recent 60 days of email."

"No emails from [email protected] for the time period Jan. 21, 2009, through Feb. 1, 2013, reside on the server. Thus, there are no [email protected] e-mails from Secretary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state on the server for any review, even if such review were appropriate and legally authorized."

To recap, Clinton’s private server was wiped clean —technically, filtering out emails older than 60 days — sometime between Dec. 5, 2014, and March 27, 2015. No clearer timeline has been stated.

Why does this matter?

After receiving Kendall’s letter, Gowdy issued a statement accusing Clinton of "unilaterally" and "permanently" deleting all the emails when she wiped the server. The Clinton campaign and Kendall, meanwhile, contend that all the emails relevant to Benghazi and her time as Secretary of State still exist and are in State Department’s possession.

Our ruling

Keilar said, "The (Clinton) campaign hasn’t been clear about when she wiped her server of her work emails."

The Clinton campaign told us the work-related emails were deleted off the server "shortly after" she turned them over to the State Department on Dec. 5, 2014, but did not provide a date.

The paper trail so far gives us a window of sometime between December 2014 and March 2015, but no more.  

That’s better than nothing, but Keilar is largely correct when she says the picture isn’t clear. We rate her claim Mostly True.

Our Sources

Email interview with Josh Schwerin, spokesperson for Hillary Clinton, July 12, 2015

House of Representatives Select Committee on Benghazi, Letter from David Kendall to Trey Gowdy, March 27, 2015

House of Representatives Select Committee on Benghazi, Letter from Trey Gowdy to David Kendall, March 19, 2015

House of Representatives Select Committee on Benghazi, Subpoena, March 4, 2015

House of Representatives Select Committee on Benghazi, Select Committee on Benghazi Releases Clinton Subpoena, July 8, 2015

New York Times, "No Copies of Clinton Emails on Server, Lawyer Says," March 27, 2015

Washington Post, "Complete text of Hillary Clinton’s remarks on e-mails, Iran," March 10, 2015

PolitiFact, Hillary Clinton and the House Republicans battle over Benghazi subpoena, July 9, 2015

Washington Post, "Hillary Clinton’s e-mails: a timeline of actions and regulations," March 10, 2015

Politico, "Trey Gowdy: Hillary Clinton wiped her server clean," March 27, 2015

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More by Linda Qiu

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