Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff during her time as secretary of state, Cheryl Mills, said she simply never thought about the prospect that some of Clinton’s private e-mail exchanges wouldn’t be retained under federal records laws.
"I wish I had thought about that subset," Mills said in a deposition released Tuesday by the conservative government transparency group Judicial Watch. "I wish I had thought about the fact that someone could be nongovernment” and “those records might be not being captured.”
Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, used personal e-mail running on a server in her home to conduct government business when she was secretary of state from 2009 to 2013. The State Department’s inspector general found in a May 26 report that the set-up, which Clinton has repeatedly said was allowed, violated department rules, that she never sought permission for it and that she would have been turned down if she had.
Clinton has said the vast majority of her correspondence was retained by the State Department, which automatically stores messages sent or received over its internal state.gov e-mail system, because she e-mailed others on their official accounts. But Mills acknowledged in the May 27 deposition that messages between Clinton and others who also used private e-mail weren’t captured automatically.
Bid to ‘Distract’
Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, sent a memo to supporters May 28 saying Republicans would keep trying to "distract" from her effort to win the White House with talk of the server and that "if she could go back, she’d do it differently." While Clinton hasn’t been charged with violating any law, Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, routinely refers to his likely rival as "Crooked Hillary."
The Mills deposition came in one of several lawsuits against the State Department by Judicial Watch, which alleges that Clinton’s use of the private server helped the State Department violate open-records laws, including the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA.
During the deposition, a Judicial Watch attorney cited an e-mail to Mills in 2011 about the possibility of giving Clinton, who carried a personal BlackBerry with her private e-mail, a device that would use the official State Department e-mail system.
In that message Stephen Mull, a department official who’s due to be deposed on June 3, wrote Mills that such a BlackBerry would have an “operating State Department e-mail account, which would mask her identity but which also would be subject to FOIA requests.”
“I don’t recall having a conversation with him with respect to her use in e-mail and FOIA,” Mills responded. Asked if she had reason to believe Clinton had set up her private-e-mail system “to avoid FOIA,” Mills said, “Absolutely not.”
In the end, Clinton never received a BlackBerry with a State Department e-mail address.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is examining whether classified information was illegally transmitted in Clinton’s e-mails. None of the e-mails that Clinton turned over contained information marked classified at the time they were sent. Yet more than 2,000 messages included information that was deemed classified retroactively when the State Department examined them for release, including 22 messages that were withheld because they were found to contain top-secret information.
Turning Over E-Mail
Mills acknowledged in the deposition that she didn’t think of turning over Clinton’s e-mails on official business to the State Department when the secretary of state left office in 2013. “I wish I had,” she said. “I didn’t.”
In late 2014, after a State Department request, Clinton aides gave the State Department about 30,000 messages that they said made up almost all of her work correspondence.
Mills, a lawyer who presented President Bill Clinton’s defense during his impeachment proceedings, serves on the boards of the Clinton Foundation and BlackRock Inc. and is the founder and chief executive officer of BlackIvy Group, which seeks to develop businesses in Sub-Saharan Africa. She continues to act as a counsel for Hillary Clinton.
Mills was questioned in a Judicial Watch lawsuit seeking information about employment outside the department by another key Clinton aide, Huma Abedin. Abedin was deputy chief of staff while Clinton was at the State Department and now serves as vice chairman of her presidential campaign.
Judicial Watch has proposed dates to depose four more former Clinton or State Department aides in the case, including Abedin and Mull. The group also has asked to depose Clinton in another case.
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