Clinton's Use Of Personal Email Could Hamper Archiving Efforts NPR's Melissa Block talks to Jason R. Baron, former director of litigation at the National Archives, about federal laws governing email.
NPR logo

Clinton's Use Of Personal Email Could Hamper Archiving Efforts

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/390757750/390757751" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Clinton's Use Of Personal Email Could Hamper Archiving Efforts

Law

Clinton's Use Of Personal Email Could Hamper Archiving Efforts

Clinton's Use Of Personal Email Could Hamper Archiving Efforts

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/390757750/390757751" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

NPR's Melissa Block talks to Jason R. Baron, former director of litigation at the National Archives, about federal laws governing email. Until four months ago, officials could use personal email as long as they forwarded it to agency records.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

It's turning into a turbulent week for Hillary Clinton as she considers a run for the White House. She was honored last night by EMILY's List, the political group that promotes Democratic women candidates. But her speech was overshadowed by reports that she conducted government business on a private email account while serving as secretary of state.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

As The New York Times first reported, Clinton did not have a government email address during her four years at State. Today, the Associated Press reports that the email account Clinton used was traced back to a private email server registered to her family's home in Chappaqua, N.Y. The State Department says Clinton did not break any rules in place at the time. We ran that by Jason R. Baron. He's a former director of litigation at the National Archives and Records Administration. He says while the rules then did allow government officials to use personal email, they still had to turn those messages over to the government to be preserved.

JASON R. BARON: What is highly unusual here are two things - one, that a secretary of state solely used a private email system without ever using the official State Department email system and two, that the regulations were not respected, which is that if you use a private system, that during your time in office you would transfer those records to a State Department system. Here, apparently, there was a year or so after leaving office before a transfer was contemplated.

BLOCK: The Clinton camp does say this, though, that 9 out of 10 emails that she sent were sent to State Department colleagues so that they would be in the computer system already. What about that argument?

BARON: Well, first of all, they're the only ones who know because no one, as far as I know, from the National Archives or the State Department, has seen the entirety of the communications that were made on this external system. But even if the majority of emails were sent to State Department or other accounts, that still raises the question of what about the others?

BLOCK: You said it would be highly unusual for someone to use exclusively a personal email account - highly unusual? Has it ever been done before by anyone that you know?

BARON: Well, Michael Schmidt of The New York Times reported that Colin Powell had used a private account. And from time to time during my tenure, 13 years as director of litigation at the Archives, there would be, on occasion, a report that some employee used a private email account. However, this is unprecedented, for a cabinet official to solely use a private network during the entirety of their time in office without ever having an official account.

BLOCK: And that's troubling to you. Why?

BARON: Well, first of all, every federal employee knows that they need to keep adequate documentation of policies and decisions that constitute records. There are open and transparent laws, like the Freedom of Information Act, which allow for citizens to ask for documents and records about what their government is up to. If you're using a private network, there is more obstacles to getting at records that are the transaction-government business. And, of course, there have been questions raised about the security of the communications on a private network. A Gmail account or some other private server is not as secure as an official record-keeping system. And it's not clear what levels of encryption were employed here given the sensitivity of at least some of the secretary of state's commutations. So there are any number of questions raised. But the bottom line from a record-keeping perspective is that everyone knows that kind of level of government, there are important matters communicated by email. And that's why high-level officials are expected to use official record-keeping systems, so that there can be an appropriate capture of those documents to preserve the nation's history.

BLOCK: Well, Mr. Baron, thank you so much for talking with us about it.

BARON: Thank you.

BLOCK: That's Jason R. Baron, former director of litigation at the National Archives and Records Administration. He's now with the law firm Drinker Biddle and Reath. And in related news, today a House committee issued subpoenas for all of former Secretary Clinton's emails related to Libya, for its investigation into the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.