Months before Hillary Clinton was forced to hand her emails over to the State Department, the agency was battening down the hatches in anticipation of media inquiries about the peculiar email arrangement she operated as secretary of state, a transcript of Clinton’s former chief of staff Cheryl Mills reveals.
The State Department was “preparing for what they anticipated to be inquiries that would come once the materials were provided,” Mills said during her Sept. 3 interview.
Democratic members of the House Select Committee on Benghazi released the 307-page transcript of Mills’ interview Wednesday, the day before Clinton testifies in front of the panel.
The revelation that the State Department was preparing for a media frenzy sheds light on the level of concern within the agency over Clinton’s off-the-books email setup. It also indicates that those tasked with responding to the revelation knew the arrangement would attract intense scrutiny.
The transcript also provides more detail on the timeline by which the State Department reached out to Clinton to ask her for the emails she sent and received on that account. It shows that the State Department had reached out to Clinton’s legal counsel — including Mills — before deciding to formally request emails and other records from all living secretaries of state.
Clinton has spun the details of the records exchange, claiming that she took an “unprecedented” step by handing over 55,000 pages of her work-related emails.
But Mills’ statements — and the State Department’s concerns about media scrutiny — undermine that claim.
According to the transcript of Mills’ interview, Benghazi Committee deputy chief counsel Sharon Jackson asked her about how Clinton’s secret email use was discovered.
Mills was contacted last summer by Sec. of State John Kerry’s then-chief of staff David Wade and Jen Psaki, who was then part of the agency’s communications team, she said.
“They were going to be providing the final tranche of documents that had been collected and that in those materials were materials that reflected her email address,” Mills recalled, noting that the emails which included exchanges which showed Clinton’s email address — HDR22@clintonemail.com — were part of a trove of documents that should have been turned over to the committee that preceded the Select Committee.
“They were anticipating that there would be potentially media inquiries around a set of materials that they would be providing to Congress, and included in that set of issues was her personal email account and address,” she explained.
She said that Wade and Psaki described “four or five things” that they anticipated would be the subject of media questions once Clinton’s arrangement was revealed.
“They wanted to ensure that they had as accurate information as they could relay,” Mills said.
The State Department did become the center of a media firestorm, but not until months after Wade and Psaki talked with Mills. The agency formally requested all of Clinton’s work product in late October. She handed over the documents in early December. Her use of the email account was not made public until March, when The New York Times reported it.