House Democrats on Wednesday released email correspondence between Colin Powell and Hillary Clinton after she became secretary of state, in which they discussed the use of personal email and devices.
In the in January 2009 email exchange, Clinton asks the former secretary of state about restrictions in using a Blackberry, and Powell responded with how he used a land line to get around State Department rules.
"I didn’t have a Blackberry," Powell said in the email. "What I did was have a personal computer that was hooked up to a private phone line (sounds ancient). So I could communicate with a wide range of friends directly without it going through the State Department servers. I even used it to do business with some foreign leaders and some of the senior folks in the Department on their personal email accounts. I did the same thing on the road in hotels."
The emails were released by Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, a ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Cummings said he procured the documents through a procedure that allows members of the committee to obtain federal records.
Clinton’s use of a private email server has become a major issue in the presidential campaign. The FBI said in July that there is no evidence Clinton committed a crime, and recommended no charges. Clinton has said using a private email server was a mistake.
Powell, who served as secretary from 2001 to 2005, has said he used a personal email account because State's email system was slow and cumbersome.
In the email, Powell expressed frustration over State Department rules regarding the use of personal digital assistants (PDAs) and mobile phones in secure spaces.
"When I asked why not they gave me all kinds of nonsense about how they gave out signals and could be read by spies, etc.," Powell said in the email.
"I had numerous meetings with them. We even opened one up for them to try to explain to me why it was more dangerous than say, a remote control for one of the many tvs in the suite. Or something embedded in my shoe heel," Powell said in the email.
Powell said the NSA and CIA never gave him a satisfactory answer, "so, we just went about our business and stopped asking." He said he used an "ancient" version of a PDA — the predecessor of the modern-day smart phone.
Powell in the email also warned Clinton about using a BlackBerry.
"However, there is a real danger. If it is public that you have a BlackBerry and it it (sic) government and you are using it, government or not, to do business, it may become an official record and subject to the law," Powell wrote.
"Reading about the President's BB rules this morning, it sounds like it won't be as useful as it used to be. Be very careful. I got around it all by not saying much and not using systems that captured the data," he said in the email.
Cummings, of the House committee, said the email exchange shows Powell advised Clinton on how to use private email as secretary of state, and proves Clinton wasn’t the only person in that position to do so.
Powell has said that his use of a private email account was different than Clinton’s use of a private emails server in her home.
More recently, Powell told People magazine in August that Clinton’s team has been trying to “pin” Clinton’s use of a private email server and the controversy on him. In that interview Powell said Clinton had already been using a private email address for a year before he mentioned it to her.
Powell said in an email Wednesday night that he had no comment on the email exchange.
The Clinton campaign Wednesday night pointed to FBI interview notes released on Sept. 2 in which Clinton said she communicated with Powell about the use of non-state email, and that he said that anything in writing would be a government record so she wasn't concerned about bypassing government record-keeping guidelines. Clinton said Powell’s advice did not affect her decision, according to the notes.
State Department Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner said Wednesday: "I am not able to provide insight into what former Secretary Powell meant in this email chain. Nor am I am able to provide insight into what Secretary Clinton thought about the email."
"The FBI memo and Secretary Clinton’s interview summary indicate that Secretary Clinton says she did not attempt to avoid FOIA," Toner said, referring to the Freedom of Information Act.
Cummings said Wednesday that the email shows Powell advised Clinton with a "blueprint" on how to get around security rules and requirements to preserve federal records, but he said "Secretary Clinton has made clear that she did not rely on this advice."
Cummings' release came on the eve of a House Oversight hearing in which Republicans are expected to focus on Clinton's use of a private email server and whether the State Department has been forthcoming with Freedom of Information requests.
Powell on Thursday said in a statement that he has been interviewed by the FBI and State Department Inspector General about the matter and that "I stand by my decisions and I am fully accountable."
"With respect to records, if I sent an email from my public email account to an addressee at another public email account it would not have gone through State Department servers," Powell said in a statement on Thursday. "It was a private conversation similar to a phone call. If I sent it to a state.gov address it should have been captured and retained by State servers. I was not aware at the time of any requirement for private, unclassified exchanges to be treated as official records."