In the early days of the scandal over her use of a private email system, Hillary Clinton planned to defend her email practices by saying she was encouraged to use a personal email account by one of her predecessors, Gen. Colin Powell, at a 2009 dinner party hosted by another former secretary of state, Madeleine Albright.
But that dinner party claim, which was disputed when it was reported for the first time in August, was cut from Clinton’s statement on the email issue, emails hacked from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s Gmail account show.
In that first draft, dated March 7, 2015, several days before Clinton issued her first statement on the email scandal at the United Nations, Clinton’s handlers crafted a draft statement on the email issue which included the passage:
After I was nominated to be Secretary of State, former Secretary Madeline Albright hosted a dinner for me and invited all the living former Secretaries of State. All except General Al Haig (who was ill) were able to attend, and I received a great deal of good advice from them all. General Colin Powell described his experiences attempting to modernize the Department’s communications technology. He said he had found it very advantageous to use his personal email, since it tended to be faster, more reliable, and more glitch-free than government email.
A similar vignette was revealed publicly for the first time in August when The New York Times reported it in a review of a book written by pro-Clinton author Joe Conason.
But Powell issued a statement the day after The Times article was published, asserting that he did not recall the dinner party discussion. The office of Condoleezza Rice, Clinton’s immediate predecessor, told The Daily Caller that Rice also did not recall the conversation. (RELATED: Emails Undercut Pro-Hillary Journo’s Claims About Powell-Clinton Dinner Party)
Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager, made the decision to delete the story from Clinton’s statement, he explained in the Podesta email chain, which was published by Wikileaks on Monday.
“The one thing in here I feel strongly about is that she NOT include the part about meeting with other former secretaries and that they told her she should do this,” Mook wrote.
He further suggested that Clinton, and not an aide, was the source of the now-disputed dinner party claim.
“I recognize that the boss will have to approve, but if she wants to include that, I’d say we should discuss with her. I worry it opens a major can of worms and deflects the heat in a potentially unhelpful way,” he wrote.
That passage was left in the draft after edits were made by two other close Clinton aides, her lawyer and State Department chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, and Philippe Reines, a communications adviser.
Clinton has avoided commenting on the dinner party claim, which many of her supporters, including Conason, cited as evidence that her off-the-books email system received tacit approval from her predecessors.
“I’m not going to re-litigate in public my private conversations with him,” Clinton told CNN’s Anderson Cooper in an August interview of Powell. (RELATED: Hillary Won’t Talk About Her Colin Powell Dinner Party Claims)
The dinner party story, as written in the draft, is inaccurate in at least one obvious way.
While the passage states that Clinton was invited to the party as a nominee for secretary of state, the dinner party was actually held at Albright’s Washington D.C. residence in June 2009, many months after Clinton took office.
As with Powell and Rice, Albright, a Clinton supporter, also appears to not have remembered the incident.
A separate leak of Powell’s hacked email account included an email exchange in which Powell told Rice: “I was [with] Maddy the other evening and she doesn’t remember an email conversation or even asking us a question.”
Rice cast even more doubt on the dinner party story in her response to Powell.
“Yes — I’m sure it never came up,” she wrote.
Complicating the story even further was author Joe Conason’s assertion that Powell and his personal assistant, Peggy Cifrino, made conflicting claims about Powell’s recollection of the dinner party. After Powell issued a statement that the Clinton team was trying to “pin” her email decision on him, Conason reported part of an email exchange he had with Cifrino in June which he said showed that Powell did in fact recall having the conversation about emails with Clinton at the dinner party.
But the entire email was released in the hack of Powell’s account, and it showed that Cifrino told Conason that Powell did not recall having that conversation at the dinner party.
Conason has not commented on the discrepancy.
Mook’s decision to not implicate Clinton’s predecessors in the statement was probably wise. Powell’s emails show that he warned Clinton lawyer Cheryl Mills on several occasions not to drag him into the email scandal.
“You really don’t want to get me into this,” he wrote to Mills in an email on March 7, 2015, the same day that Clinton’s email statement was being reviewed. “I haven’t been asked nor said a word about HRC and won’t unless you all start it.” (RELATED: Colin Powell Believed ‘Hillary’s Mafia’ Was Trying To Suck Him Into Email Scandal)
Powell did share advice with Clinton about his email usage as secretary of state. But that was in an email on Jan. 23, 2009, just days after she took office and after she had decided to create her stand-alone email system.
Clinton kicked off the exchange, asking Powell: “What were the restrictions on your use of your blackberry? Did you use it in your personal office?” (RELATED: Emails: Addicted To BlackBerry, Hillary Asked Colin Powell For Advice On How To Get Her Fix)
Powell told Clinton that he did not use a BlackBerry while in office. But he urged her to “be very careful” about using non-government communications.
“I got around it all by not saying much and not using systems that captured the data,” he said.
While Clinton’s allies have cited the exchange as evidence that Clinton was merely following the email practices of a well-respected public official, another interpretation of the email exchange is that Powell made Clinton aware that using non-government email systems was not sanctioned by the State Department.
“If it is public that you have a BlackBerry and it it government and you are using it, government or not, to do business, it may become an official record and subject to the law,” Powell told Clinton.
Clinton’s use of the secret email system did allow her to avoid several Freedom of Information Act requests.
Clinton used a personal BlackBerry to send and receive all of her emails as secretary of state. Those emails were routed through a private email server set up in her New York home. Powell only used an email account and did not have a stand-alone server. He also used the State Department’s classified messaging network to send and receive classified information. Clinton did not use the system even though the State Department set up an account for her.