“OBSESSED.” “Truly stupid.” “Embarrassing.”
Those are a few of the comments that Secretary of State John Kerry’s chief of staff Jonathan Finer made in email exchanges in the days and weeks after the Hillary Clinton email scandal blew up on the national stage last year.
The emails, which the State Department gave The Daily Caller in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, show the candid remarks of a high-ranking State Department official regarding the Clinton email fiasco as it was unfolding.
In one email, Finer responded to an email which included a copy of the Associated Press article that exposed Clinton’s use of a private email server.
“People are OBSESSED with this,” Finer wrote in the March 4 message to Glen Johnson, a senior adviser to Kerry and deputy assistant secretary of the bureau of public affairs.
Finer was officially promoted from deputy chief of staff on March 6, two days after he sent the email. He replaced David Wade.
Several days before the email, The New York Times broke the story that Clinton exclusively used a personal email account as secretary of state. The AP added fresh detail to the brewing scandal, laying out how Clinton’s emails were routed through an off-the-books email server she had set up at her house.
Finer’s remarks invite two interpretations. He either believed that the press and public showed too much interest in Clinton’s email practices — they were “OBSESSED” with it — or he was merely noting that there was great interest in the story.
In a statement to TheDC, the State Department opted for the latter explanation.
“As Chief of Staff, part of Jon Finer’s job is to stay abreast of media coverage on a wide range of issue,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told TheDC in a statement.
“That he occasionally comments on articles to his colleagues should not be surprising. It is clear from simply reading these messages that they reflect an acknowledgment that the email story was rapidly gaining attention and that pressure was increasing to process emails more quickly for public release — nothing more, nothing less.”
Finer offered commentary on other email-related news items. In one case he appeared to criticize Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. In others, he expressed support for Kerry’s call for a State Department review of email practices.
“Truly stupid,” was his comment in an Aug. 5, 2015 email to a story about Grassley holding up State Department nominations in the Senate over what he said was the agency’s “bad faith” actions in the Clinton email probe.
“This is embarrassing,” Finer wrote in a May 19, 2015 email responding to an Associated Press article in which Clinton was quoted urging the State Department to speed up the release of her work-related emails.
“I want those emails out,” Clinton said at the time. But despite her claims to want a speedy release and to support transparency, Clinton failed to turn over her State Department emails for nearly two years after leaving office. And her use of a private email system was only revealed in news articles.
It is not clear what Finer found “embarrassing” about the AP article, Clinton’s call for her emails to be released or the State Department’s handling of the matter.
Finer also commented in a March 12 email about an article asserting that Clinton’s State Department team kept her insulated from other career agency officials.
“Brutal about the former Clinton people,” he wrote in response to the article, published by BuzzFeed.
“Good,” Finer wrote in response to a March 27 report that Kerry had asked the State Department’s inspector general to review the agency’s email practices. According to that report, Kerry’s request was made specifically because of the revelations about Clinton’s email habits. (RELATED: State Dept. Gave ‘Inaccurate’ Response To Records Requests For Hillary Emails)
In his statement to TheDC, spokesman John Kirby said that Finer, Kerry and the State Department in general take records management and FOIA issues seriously.
“The bottom line is this: Jon takes the issue of records management and FOIA responsiveness at State very seriously, as does the Secretary,” Kirby said.
But that claim has been disputed by many observers. The inspector general investigation that Kerry ordered last year found evidence that the agency failed to properly respond to FOIA requests for Clinton’s records.
The IG report said that the State Department provided “inaccurate” and “incomplete” responses to those FOIAs, which were filed by a watchdog group and several news agencies seeking Clinton email records in 2010, 2011, and 2012.
The false denials meant that the public was delayed more than a year in learning about Clinton’s questionable email practices. The revelations about Clintons emails have sparked dozens of FOIA lawsuits, such as TheDC’s, which is being handled by the Cause of Action Institute. In many cases, State Department lawyers say that because of a backlog of lawsuits, records will not be produced until after the general election.
The State Department has also defended Clinton in other ways. Agency spokespeople have publicly disputed the Intelligence Community’s assessment that some of Clinton’s emails contained information that was classified when the emails were initially sent. FBI director James Comey said in July that more than 100 emails recovered from Clinton’s server had information that was classified when they were originated.
Kerry himself, when he was in the U.S. Senate, also sent classified emails from a personal email account to Clinton State Department officials. One of those emails was determined to contain information now classified as “Secret.” (RELATED: State Dept. Records Show John Kerry Sent A ‘SECRET’ Email From His iPad)