White House Struggles to Explain Clinton Email Flap

Washington – As Republican lawmakers criticized Hillary Clinton Tuesday for using her personal email account to conduct government business at the State Department, the White House would not say whether the former Cabinet secretary violated federal law.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters at his daily briefing that he could not say why Clinton did not use a government account, and referred reporters to the State Department.

Clinton, the likely frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for president, used a personal e-mail account to conduct government business during her four years at the State Department, which may have violated federal regulations, The New York Times reported Monday night.

Earnest said “very specific guidance has been given to agencies all across the government, which is specifically that employees in the Obama administration should use their official e-mail accounts when they’re conducting official government business.”

Emails from official government accounts are saved for public record but, according to the Times story, Clinton did not preserve her personal emails as required by the Federal Records Act.

“Violations of the Federal Records Act within federal agencies is something we take very seriously,” said House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. Chaffetz said his committee will work with the Select Committee on Benghazi to further explore Clinton’s use of personal emails.

In December, Clinton turned over 55,000 pages of personal e-mails to the State Department after her aides reviewed them and selected which pages to hand over.

“The Federal Records Act obligates Secretary Clinton to preserve records containing adequate and proper documentation of the State Department, including essential transactions of the organization. She failed to do so,” Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. said. “The use of a personal e-mail address to skirt public records laws, aside from failing to meet the security standards one would expect of the nation’s top diplomat, enabled Clinton to shield her official communications from scrutiny by the media and the American public.”

Earnest said Clinton had complied with the Federal Records Act and that her team had “complied with that request by sending all of the emails on her personal account that pertained to her official responsibilities as secretary of state.”

“The policy as a general matter allows individuals to use their personal e-mail address as long as those emails are maintained and sent to the State Department, which if you ask Secretary Clinton’s team, that’s what they completed in the last month or two,” he said.

He called it “the responsibility of agencies to preserve those records, even when those records – exist on a personal email account” and added that “We encourage people to use their official government email account when they’re conducting official government business.”

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush criticized Clinton for failing to release personal email used to conduct government business while she was secretary of state. “Transparency matters,” Bush tweeted late Monday. “Unclassified @HillaryClinton emails should be released.”

America Rising, conservative opposition research group, filed a freedom of information request for her emails.

Bush, who is considering seeking the Republican nomination for president, released thousands of emails sent to him during his eight years as governor, even though they were from a personal account.

The public didn’t see everything from Bush. The Miami Herald reported in January that he conducted all his communication on his private Jeb@jeb.orgaccount and turned over only a hand-selected batch to the state archives when he left office.