Editorial: Clinton should be held accountable for secret email system

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Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrogantly flouted federal law by conducting the nation's business using a secret, personal email account and failing to routinely share those documents with government archivists. Creating her own communications system enabled her to conduct public business in private and left the State Department unable to fulfill public records requests from Congress, advocacy groups and the media. The explanations by Clinton's defenders are not credible, and a House committee's decision Wednesday to issue subpoenas to seek more emails is appropriate.

During four years as secretary of state, Clinton did not have a government email account and used a private email address. Exclusively using personal email for government business is not illegal, but it violated the Obama administration's policy to use government email accounts for public business. Even more unusual, the Associated Press reported Wednesday, is that a computer server that sent and received Clinton's emails was traced to an Internet service registered at the Clinton family home in New York. No wonder Clinton's aides did not preserve her email as required by the Federal Records Act. This lack of transparency appears carefully designed, not a bureaucratic oversight.

Clinton's reliance on personal email was discovered when a House committee investigating the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, requested correspondence between the former secretary and her staff. But there were earlier signs of trouble. The New York Times reports the State Department could not comply with public records requests for Clinton's correspondence as early as 2010, when the Associated Press submitted a query that was never answered.

Last month, Clinton turned over about 300 emails to the House committee, which planned Wednesday to issue subpoenas seeking more. About two months ago, she gave the State Department about 55,000 pages of emails, prompted by the agency's efforts to comply with federal records rules. It is unclear how many emails were in her private account, what they contained or how her staff determined which ones were germane for government archives.

A Clinton spokesman maintains the former secretary of state did nothing wrong and complied with the "letter and spirit of the rules." Her staff said she assumed her emails were being archived by other federal agencies with which she was communicating. Passing the buck is not a reasonable explanation, and that flimsy excuse does not address Clinton's communications with foreign officials or others outside the U.S. government.

Clinton's feeble explanations ring hollow, particularly for a Yale-trained lawyer preparing to run for president a second time. Florida's public records laws are more robust than the federal government's. But contrast Clinton's obfuscation with former Gov. Jeb Bush's approach. The likely Republican presidential candidate has created a website that makes it easier to search several hundred thousand emails sent from his personal account during his eight years as governor.

The Obama administration has been one of the least transparent in modern times, and Clinton's secrecy feeds that narrative. It reflects an astounding disregard for public records and open government, and it raises questions about the accuracy of the public record regarding Benghazi and other events during Clinton's tenure. The Republican-led House should take its investigation wherever it leads. Openness is a nonpartisan expectation, and public officials who brazenly ignore that responsibility should be held accountable — regardless of their political party, office or last name.

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