Hillary Clinton wants to pull back the curtain on her emails.
She took to Twitter late Wednesday to personally weigh in for the first time on the email controversy that has enveloped her in the past few days. “I want the public to see my email. I asked State to release them. They said they will review them for release as soon as possible,” she wrote.
It now falls to the State Department to conduct the delicate process of deciding which emails of Clintons can be released to public. “We will undertake this review as quickly as possible; given the sheer volume of the document set, this review will take some time to complete,” a spokesperson for the department said.
The vast majority – nine out of 10 – emails Clinton sent went to someone with a “.gov” email address, meaning they would have been archived automatically, according to a Clinton aide.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Select Committee on Benghazi, praised Clinton’s move as a nearly unprecedented step towards transparency. “As far as I am aware, no other cabinet secretary in history has ever called for the release of his or her emails,” he said Thursday morning. The State Department has also said that Clinton is the only former secretary of state to have so far turned over records the department requested.
But Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy, who chairs the committee, is not satisfied. “The former Secretary’s tweet does not answer questions about why this was not done when she left office, the integrity of the emails while she controlled them, the scheme to conceal them, or the failure to provide them in logical course,” Gowdy spokesperson Jamal Ware said.
The controversy has put the Obama administration in an awkward spot, both at the White House and the State Department, which have been forced to contend with difficult questions for two days straight. And the White House’s top lawyer may not have known about emails email habits until the Benghazi committee discovered it, an anonymous source told the AP.
Clinton’s response came after the Benghazi committee issued subpoenas on Wednesday afternoon to the State Department for emails relating to the 2012 terror attack on the diplomatic compound in Libya. It’s the latest revelation in an quickly moving controversy over Clinton’s exclusive use of a private email account while she served as secretary of state, a fact discovered by the committee months ago but made public only this week.
Democrats on the committee were not informed about the subpoenas before they were made public, leading to calls that Gowdy violated a promise he made to Democratic Ranking Member Elijah Cummings in a letter when the committee first formed. “I intend to give you, absent exigent circumstances, seven calendar days of notice before I issue a subpoena,” Gowdy wrote to Cummings at the time. The revelations about Clinton’s personal email server appear to be just such an exigent circumstance.
With the status of a candidate, but without a campaign apparatus, Clinton was largely absent from her own pseudo-scandal until sending out her tweet on Wednesday evening. She stayed above the fray Tuesday night at a gala for the women’s group Emily’s List in Washington and her aides have mostly kept mum, so far not offering a comprehensive explanation. Instead, some Democrats have taken it upon themselves to defend her publicly. But knowing little more information than everyone else, they’re left to attack the messenger and deflect criticism to Republicans who used similar email practices, rather than mounting a coherent response.
Questions about Clinton’s emails dominated the White House press briefing for a second day. And for a second day, the White House decline to mount a robust defense of Clinton.
“Very specific guidance has been given to agencies all across the government, which is specifically that employees of the Obama administration should use their official email accounts when they’re conducting official government business,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters. Still, he also said he did not think Clinton violated any regulations or law. “if they did what they said they did,” he said. “That would be consistent with the Federal Records Act.”
It was a policy reiterated by former press secretary Jay Carney in 2011 after similar revelations about government officials using personal email for work. “The administration policy that is effective here is that we — all of our work is conducted on work email accounts,” said the then-press secretary.
Clinton’s lawyer on Wednesday disputed the claim Gowdy made yesterday that Clinton used multiple private email accounts, but otherwise the former secretary of state and her advisers have been relatively quiet.
Other defenders have included the outside groups founded by David Brock, including Media Matters and American Bridge, which have been firing on all cylinders to try to slow the inertia of the story. Brock himself appeared twice on msnbc. But with little direction from Clinton high command, and a need to defer to Clinton on strategy, the outside groups have been relegated to attacking the media for over-hyping the story and shifting blame.
Several Clinton allies msnbc contacted Wednesday said they had not seen any official talking points being circulated by Clinton aides on the email issue, though they could come soon. Last week, Clinton spokesperson Nick Merrill passed around suggestions of how allies could respond to questions about the Clinton Foundation’s fundraising.
The Benghazi Select Committee has a broad mandate to investigate the attacks, and no hard expiration date. At a press conference Tuesday, Gowdy said he would not make its findings known until it completed its work.
Meanwhile, the AP is considering suing the State Department over an unrelated records request they made for Clinton’s schedules and other information. “We believe it’s critically important that government officials and agencies be held accountable to the voters,” the AP’s general counsel, Karen Kaiser told The New York Times. “In this instance, we’ve exhausted our administrative remedies in pursuit of important documents and are considering legal action.”
Also on Wednesday, Clinton’s longtime spokesperson Philippe Reines picked a public fight with a Gawker writer for reporting an anonymously sourced allegation that Reines also had an email on Clinton’s private server. In a 650 word response, Reines flayed Gawker’s J.K. Trotter and carbon copied two media reporters “as observers” to the exchange, who publicized the exchange.
Reines is one of Clinton’s closest aides going back to her time in the U.S. Senate. A loyal and acerbic defender of the former secretary of state in the press, he’s known for picking fights with reporters, but rarely speaks with them on the record these days.
Wednesday evening, Clinton will attend a fundraiser gala for the Clinton Foundation, started by her husband, former President Bill Clinton. The philanthropy is building out an endowment to sustain it in case Clinton becomes president. The event was closed to reporters, and the location was not announced publicly.