Just days after Hillary Clinton’s private email use was revealed to the world, the former secretary of state approved a top aide’s plan to push back on the fledgling scandal by filing records requests for Congress members’ emails, newly released emails show.
The requests would have been pure political theater since Congress’ emails are not covered by the Federal Records Act, in contrast to the State Department’s and other executive agencies.
But Clinton didn’t want the aide’s fingerprints on the project, so she suggested that he find someone else to carry it out.
“I told HRC yesterday I was going to submit FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests to the Rs on the committee and [Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz] etc just to trigger their offices sending me replies that Congress is exempt from FOIA and therefore they are rejecting my request,” Philippe Reines wrote in a March 5, 2015 email to John Podesta, the Clinton campaign chairman whose hacked emails have recently been released by Wikileaks.
“She loved the idea, just preferred it not come from me,” Reines added before asking Podesta for ideas on who could carry out the task.
Podesta suggested Washington D.C. defense attorney Abbe Lowell for the job. Lowell served as chief minority counsel for House Democrats during Bill Clinton’s impeachment in the late-1990s.
It is unclear if Lowell took on the project. But the email chain suggests that he reached out that same day to Cheryl Mills, Clinton’s lawyer and her chief of staff at the State Department. Lowell did not respond to a request for comment.
Reines was not the only person in the Clinton orbit to come up with the idea for a FOIA stunt.
Podesta forwarded Reines an email he received earlier that day from Steve Elmendorf, an influential Beltway lobbyist and bundler for Clinton’s campaign.
“When I worked for the leadership we had a records retention policy to actively destroy all emails after 3 or 6 months,” Elmendorf wrote.
“Reporters should be asking congress and individual members what their policy is? Do they use private accounts for biz ? Why does fioa [sic] not apply to them?”
The Clinton campaign and its surrogates and allies have at times used the same argument to push back against the email scandal narrative. But the effort has largely failed to gain traction because the Federal Records Act applies to the executive branch and not to the legislative or judicial.
Clinton violated State Department and federal government protocol by using a personal email account for government business. She violated it further by failing to turn over the records after leaving office. She only did so nearly two years after leaving office and only after the State Department requested the emails.