A court filing submitted Wednesday by a senior official at the Department of State said that official Blackberry devices issued to two top aides to former secretary of State Hillary Clinton cannot be located and were probably erased and then destroyed or “excessed” as part of the Department’s normal handling of outdated technology.
Information from the devices, issued to Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills, who worked closely with Clinton during her time at State, is being sought by Judicial Watch, an activist organization that has pursued alleged wrongdoing by Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, for years. It’s most recent project is identifying the status of Ms. Abedin, who appears to have had an unconventional arrangement with the State Department, which allowed her to work both for the government and for private employers, including the Clinton Foundation and a consulting firm run by a close associate of the former president.
According to a declaration filed Wednesday by Joseph E. Macmanus, the Executive Secretary of the Department of State, the department’s Office of Information Resource Management “believes” that Blackberries were issued to Abedin and Mills. However, it “has not located any such device” at State.
Macmanus says standard procedure at State dictates that when a Blackberry device is returned, technicians perform a factory reset to remove all identifying information stored on it. Then either the device is reissued or, if it is out of date, it is “excessed.” MacManus confirmed that the devices issued to Mills and Abedin would be considered outdated.
McManus also noted that no such device was issued to Clinton, and that the former secretary of state, as is now widely known, did not use an official email account.
Judicial Watch was quick to jump on the issue.
“The questions just keep popping up. Every time the State Department tries to justify its stonewalling, one more bit of information arises,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton in a statement. “If the State Department was not providing secure email devices to Mrs. Clinton, who was? Best Buy? Target? Mrs. Clinton clearly did whatever she wanted, without regard to national security or federal records keeping laws.”
While the possible destruction of the devices will probably headline many stories about Clinton’s email controversy, the fact that they cannot be located is 1) relatively unimportant and 2) a good example of why Clinton’s decision not to use an official State Department email account is so problematic.
Yes, Abedin and Mills’ Blackberries may have been destroyed, but records of their State.gov email accounts, which the Blackberries handled exclusively, were not. That’s because the State Department has such accounts backed up.
Macmanus claims the State Department is cooperating with the information request from Judicial Watch; the department simply searched the State.gov accounts of Abedin and Mills and was able to identify responsive documents. Because Clinton made the decision not to use a State.gov account for her official email, and instead relied on a private email server, similar requests for her records can’t be handled so cleanly.
The server on which the emails were stored was under Clinton’s personal control, not the State Department’s, creating what amounts to a break in the chain of custody. Clinton insists that she turned over all emails relevant to her work at State when she was asked to do so, and erased those that were not relevant.
There, of course, is the glaring problem. Because State didn’t have continuous control of the server (which is now in the hands of the FBI, after having data “wiped” from it by technicians working for Clinton) anyone interested in the State Department-related contents of the machine has to take Clinton’s word when she says that it was all turned over.