Accuracy in Media

hillary clinton orange pantsuit

Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler, who back in July gave Hillary Clinton three Pinocchios for repeatedly claiming that she didn’t break any laws or rules by using a private email server while serving as Secretary of State, has given her another three Pinocchios for an incomplete timeline regarding the emails on her server:

“We have done everything we could, in response to the State Department asking us to do this review because they asked all the former secretaries. And the reason they asked, Chuck, is they found gaps in the record keeping.”

— Former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, in an interview with Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Sept. 27, 2015

That’s Hillary’s story and she’s sticking to it. But as Kessler notes, the State Department has confirmed that the triggering event to seek Clinton’s emails was the congressional investigation into the 2012 Benghazi attacks in which Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed:

‘In the process of responding to congressional document requests pertaining to Benghazi, State Department officials recognized that it had access to relatively few email records from former Secretary Clinton,’ State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement e-mailed to The Washington Post. ‘State Department officials contacted her representatives during the summer of 2014 to learn more about her email use and the status of emails in that account.’

Kirby added that the agency then recognized ‘that we similarly did not have extensive email records from prior Secretaries of State and therefore included them when we requested their records in October 2014.’

The State Department also realized it was not automatically preserving internal communications, with some other senior officials’ e-mails missing.

Prior to this statement, the State Department had suggested that the triggering event was the letters sent to the secretaries, which is what the Clinton campaign has been saying publicly.

Kessler then discussed the timeline in more detail, including a Q&A on the matter on the Clinton campaign website, which showed that while the State Department may have initially provided cover for Clinton by being purposefully vague, they were no longer on the same page when it came to what was the triggering event:

The Pinocchio Test

It remains a mystery to the Fact Checker why Clinton persists in saying the timeline began with the letters to all of the former secretaries. (To be fair, Clinton aides seemed mystified by our questions and why this was even an issue.)

The letters to the former secretaries all asked for copies of business-related e-mails that might have been sent from a personal account. There was certainly some historical value in that. But there was a pressing need for the State Department to seek Clinton’s e-mails because of  the Benghazi inquiry — and the State Department had made clear that its interest in the Clinton e-mails [began] months before an official letter was sent.

Clinton appears to be sticking to her timeline because it obscures the fact that she exclusively used a private e-mail for company business. If she had used a State Department e-mail, just as many other cabinet officials in the Obama administration used ‘.gov’ addresses, it’s likely the State Department would not have had trouble responding to congressional requests. That’s why there are ‘gaps in the record keeping.’

As part of Clinton’s effort to clear up questions about her e-mail set-up, Clinton should begin using a more complete timeline regarding her staff member’s dealings with the State Department on this matter. The current timeline is incomplete.

Clinton would like nothing better than to see the entire email scandal disappear before it kills her presidential hopes. But that will depend on her being completely honest about the whole affair, which she is loath to do, no matter what the cost.

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