Hillary Clinton email investigation: FBI notes reveal laptop and thumb drive missing
A Clinton Foundation laptop and a thumb drive used to archive Hillary Clinton’s emails from her time as secretary of state are missing, according to FBI notes released on Friday.
The phrase “Clinton could not recall” litters the summary of the FBI’s investigation, which concluded in July that she should not face charges. Amid fierce Republican criticism of the Democratic presidential candidate, the party’s nominee, Donald Trump released a statement which said “Hillary Clinton’s answers to the FBI about her private email server defy belief” and added that he did not “understand how she was able to get away from prosecution”.
The FBI documents describe how Monica Hanley, a former Clinton aide, received assistance in spring 2013 from Justin Cooper, a former aide to Bill Clinton, in creating an archive of Hillary Clinton’s emails. Cooper provided Hanley with an Apple MacBook laptop from the Clinton Foundation – the family organisation currently embroiled in controversy – and talked her through the process of transferring emails from Clinton’s private server to the laptop and a thumb drive.
“Hanley completed this task from her personal residence,” the notes record. The devices were intended to be stored at Clinton’s homes in New York and Washington. However, Hanley “forgot” to provide the archive laptop and thumb drive to Clinton’s staff.
In early 2014, Hanley located the laptop at her home and tried to transfer the email archive to an IT company, apparently without success. It appears the emails were then transferred to an unnamed person’s personal Gmail account and there were problems around Apple software not being compatible with that of Microsoft.
The unnamed person “told the FBI that, after the transfer was complete, he deleted the emails from the archive laptop but did not wipe the laptop. The laptop was then put in the mail, only to go missing. [Redacted] told the FBI that she never received the laptop from [redacted]; however, she advised that Clinton’s staff was moving offices at the time, and it would have been easy for the package to get lost during the transition period.
“Neither Hanley nor [redacted] could identify the current whereabouts of the archive laptop or thumb drive containing the archive, and the FBI does not have either item in its possession.”
Clinton’s use of a private email server while in office has dogged her presidential campaign. The FBI has been criticised by Democrats for taking the rare step of publishing its account of confidential interviews with Clinton and others from the recently closed investigation, which found her to have been “extremely careless” in her handling of classified information. Hopes that this would draw a line under the issue, however, appear to have been dashed.
The FBI identified a total of 13 mobile devices associated with Clinton’s two known phone numbers that potentially were used to send emails using clintonemail.com addresses.
The 58 pages of notes released on Friday, several of which were redacted, also related that Hanley often purchased replacement BlackBerry devices for Clinton during Clinton’s time at the state department. Hanley recalled buying most of them at AT&T stores in the Washington area. Cooper was usually responsible for setting them up and synching them to the server.
Clinton’s closest aide, Huma Abedin, and Hanley “indicated the whereabouts of Clinton’s devices would frequently become unknown once she transitioned to a new device”, the documents state. “Cooper did recall two instances where he destroyed Clinton’s old mobile devices by breaking them in half or hitting them with a hammer.”
The notes also contain a string of admissions by Clinton about points she did not know or could not recall: “When asked about the email chain containing ‘(C)’ portion markings that state determined to currently contain CONFIDENTIAL information, Clinton stated that she did not know what the ‘(C)’ meant at the beginning of the paragraphs and speculated it was referencing paragraphs marked in alphabetical order.”
Clinton said she did not pay attention to the difference between top secret, secret and confidential but “took all classified information seriously”. She did not recall receiving any emails she thought should not have been on an unclassified system. She also stated she received no particular guidance as to how she should use the president’s email address.
In addition, the notes say: “Clinton could not recall when she first received her security clearance and if she carried it with her to state via reciprocity from her time in the Senate. Clinton could not recall any briefing or training by state related to the retention of federal records or handling of classified information.”
Clinton was aware she was an original classification authority at the state department, but again “could not recall how often she used this authority or any training or guidance provided by state. Clinton could not give an example of how classification of a document was determined.”
Nor could she recall any specific briefing on how to handle information associated with special access program information.
“Clinton could not recall a specific process for nominating a target for a drone strike,” the notes say.
According to the notes, on 23 January 2009 Clinton emailed her predecessor, Colin Powell, to ask about his use of a BlackBerry. In his response, Powell told Clinton that if it became “public” that she was using a BlackBerry to “do business”, the emails could become “official records[s] and subject to the law”.
Powell wrote: “Be very careful. I got around it all by not saying much and not using systems that captured the data.”
Clinton told the FBI she understood Powell’s comments to mean that any of her work-related communications would be records of the government and “did not factor” the comments “into her decision to use a personal email account”, the documents say.
The release also includes technical details about how the server in the basement of Clinton’s home in Chappaqua, New York, was set up.
Clinton’s critics seized on the latest revelations. Trump’s full statement read: “Hillary Clinton’s answers to the FBI about her private email server defy belief. I was absolutely shocked to see that her answers to the FBI stood in direct contradiction to what she told the American people. After reading these documents, I really don’t understand how she was able to get away from prosecution.”
Jason Miller, senior communications adviser to Trump, said: “Hillary Clinton is applying for a job that begins each day with a top secret intelligence briefing, and the notes from her FBI interview reinforce her tremendously bad judgment and dishonesty.
“Clinton’s secret email server was an end run around government transparency laws that wound up jeopardizing our national security and sensitive diplomatic efforts.”
He added: “Clinton’s reckless conduct and dishonest attempts to avoid accountability show she cannot be trusted with the presidency and its chief obligation as commander-in-chief of the US armed forces.”
The House speaker, Paul Ryan, said: “These documents demonstrate Hillary Clinton’s reckless and downright dangerous handling of classified information during her tenure as secretary of state. They also cast further doubt on the justice department’s decision to avoid prosecuting what is a clear violation of the law. This is exactly why I have called for her to be denied access to classified information.”
Reince Priebus, chair of the Republican National Committee, said: “The FBI’s summary of their interview with Hillary Clinton is a devastating indictment of her judgment, honesty and basic competency. Clinton’s answers either show she is completely incompetent or blatantly lied to the FBI or the public.
“Either way it’s clear that, through her own actions, she has disqualified herself from the presidency.”
The Clinton campaign insisted that it was pleased the notes had been made public. Spokesman Brian Fallon said: “While her use of a single email account was clearly a mistake and she has taken responsibility for it, these materials make clear why the justice department believed there was no basis to move forward with this case.”