As the other presidential candidate with a private email server, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is trying to contrast himself with Democrat Hillary Clinton.
"My email address, write it down, and send me your thoughts, [email protected]," he’s shown telling a crowd in an Aug. 27, 2015, campaign video (the clip is from the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines on Aug. 14). "By the way, I just gave out my email address. It’s exactly what I did when I was governor of the state of Florida. I released all my emails; I’m writing an e-book about my emails."
Bush and Clinton have drawn criticism from campaign rivals because they both used private email accounts and servers for their government jobs.
But can Bush claim he’s released all of his emails as a way of drawing a distinction between himself and Clinton? No, in reality, he's done exactly what Clinton has done. Bush says he has turned over and made public all the emails he was required to. That's the same argument Clinton is making.
And like Clinton, that means we may never know with 100 percent certainty if Bush left out any work-related emails.
The email trail
Clinton has faced mounting scrutiny first into whether she turned over all of her non-personal emails to the State Department, then questions about how she handled information that was eventually marked classified. Bush, meanwhile, has been very vocal about being open and transparent in his digital dealings.
Bush used the private address on a private server every year between 1999 and 2007, corresponding with constituents and conducting state business while using a server he owned and kept at the governor’s office in Tallahassee. The archive site went live in February 2015 with a total message count his campaign has put at about 280,000.
Now, that may sound like a lot, but they were by no means every email message Bush sent while he was governor, nor were they newly available to the public. The emails were already a part of the state archives, and could have been accessed by anyone who asked for them.
That’s because under Florida’s Sunshine Law, an official has to turn over records and emails related to government business "at the expiration of his or her term of office."
Documentation from the Florida Department of State shows that Bush’s public records were transferred to the state archives several times since November 2007. The last batch of emails was turned over in June 2014, raising a few eyebrows among critics for taking an unusually long time. The last batch of 25,000 emails was described as "Additional 2002-2003 emails."
The American Democracy Legal Fund on Aug. 27 accused Bush of violating public records law for taking too long to turn over all his records. The group has asked the state attorney’s office in Leon County to fine Bush, although the rules on how long he could take are somewhat murky.
So how many emails did Bush send as governor? We’ve asked the state archives to confirm the exact number they have from all accounts, but have not heard back. We’ll update this item if they let us know. The Bush campaign also did not confirm to us whether he meant he’d released all the emails from his private server, but it’s pretty clear he did not release every single one.
We do know that during a 2007 interview, Bush said his private server had about 550,000 messages on it, a number his campaign has since declined to confirm to PolitiFact Florida. Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell told us in March that the number of emails on the server is "immaterial as they are not subject to public records request and not required by law to be retained."
Bush also guessed he had gotten about 2.5 million more emails through a public email account run by the state. We aren’t really counting state account emails in this case, because the government was responsible for reviewing and archiving those.
First Amendment Foundation president Barbara Petersen has told PolitiFact that state workers would have seen and vetted messages from state government accounts, and not Bush’s private staff or lawyers. She thought most of the Bush emails from any official account had been retained and made public through the state archives.
The emails that Bush turned over from the private server, however, are only the ones he self-selected as pertaining to state business. He left out messages concerning politics, family matters and fundraising, which the Sunshine Law allows him to do.
So that means he didn’t literally release all his emails, just the ones he says he was required to give the state.
There’s nothing in the law preventing him (or an authorized custodian) from editing them down the way he did, or from using a private account. But that also leaves room for doubt as to whether he left some messages out that should have been included in the public sweep. That is no different than points raised by Clinton’s detractors who have questioned whether she included all pertinent materials from her server.
In short, we have to take Clinton’s word that she complied with the law.
Same with Bush.
Critics have pointed out there is a lack of correspondence among Bush’s released emails about subjects ranging from the 2000 election to Terri Schiavo (the case of a Florida woman on life support who Bush and lawmakers tried to intervene to save) to voter purges, although he did discuss Florida National Guard deployments via email after Sept. 11, 2001.
In Florida, there are ways to investigate whether something that should have been included in public records isn’t available. Petersen said someone who thinks messages are missing from a records request can sue Bush in civil court and ask a judge to inspect the server.
But there’s no evidence Bush has violated state law. No judge has asked for an inspection to see if any messages that should have been included are missing, either.
Bush said, "I released all my emails."
In trying to draw a contrast to Hillary Clinton, Bush actually offered much of the same defense. In reality, Bush says he released all the emails he was required to under Florida law, in the same way Clinton says she turned over all the emails she was required to under federal law.
But Bush hasn’t turned over every single email he sent as governor. While the state handled his public account’s emails, he was allowed to self-edit [email protected] correspondence from his private server. That amounted to 280,000 emails out of a half-million or more, which Bush repackaged on a website earlier this year.
Bush’s statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.