Plenty of lawyers, including some who have a lot of experience with federal-records laws, have opined that Hillary Clinton did not “technically” violate the law. Reasonable minds may disagree, but that conclusion is hard to accept. The Federal Records Act requires the preservation of any official “record,” which is defined functionally to require preservation whenever a record relates to the performance of a federal official’s duties. There is little question that Hillary Clinton was conducting official business on her private e-mail account, and her turning over 55,000 pages of documents only after she left office all but concedes that (but may not concede the full scope of her use of that account).
There is also little doubt, given this functional definition, that e-mail has been covered by the Federal Records Act since its adoption by the federal government during the Clinton administration. As Ian Tuttle correctly notes, the State Department’s own manual has plainly provided, since 1995, that e-mail records must be preserved under the Federal Records Act.
So was the use of private e-mail allowed when Clinton was secretary? Well, sure, at least to some extent. I suspect every federal employee has, at some time, used a private e-mail account to conduct business. But that doesn’t excuse failure to comply with the Federal Records Act. Best practices have always been that an employee using a private account for government business has to either print the e-mail (which rarely happens) or copy or forward the e-mail to the employee’s official government e-mail account for preservation. Those practices, which reflected the law as it existed before Mrs. Clinton was secretary of state, were codified by National Archives Regulations in 2009, which required that any records created on private e-mail accounts must be saved to the federal-records system. And Congress confirmed that in 2013, by adopting a prohibition on the use of private e-mail, unless the employee forwards to or copies an official e-mail account within 60 days of the record’s creation.
But Mrs. Clinton did something here that went well beyond occasional or incidental use of private e-mail accounts. She eschewed the use of an official account entirely, and deliberately established a private e-mail account, apparently maintained on a server in the Clintons’ New York home. As a result, her e-mails were at no time during her tenure in office subject to the Federal Records Act. (She provided some of the e-mails only after she left office, and only when the Department of State asked for them back.) As our friends at Judicial Watch will no doubt remind everyone, there were plenty of Freedom of Information Act requests that would have implicated her e-mails. But they were never searched, even though a reasonable search of all responsive federal records must be made in response to FOIA requests. And the records would have been relevant to congressional inquiries as well, including continuing investigations of the Benghazi attacks.
Experts: Hillary Broke the Law