On Tuesday Hillary Clinton finally admitted to ABC World News Tonight anchor David Muir that using a private server for her emails as secretary of state “was a mistake.” The rest of us have known that since the story broke in March.
This belated concession won’t end the controversy. A half-year of misleading and inaccurate statements has demolished her credibility.
Mrs. Clinton continues to insist that her use of a private server was permitted. “What I did was allowed,” she told the Associated Press the day before her ABC interview. “It was allowed by the State Department.”
Mrs. Clinton used similar words last Friday, when NBC’s Andrea Mitchell pressed her on warnings about personal email accounts in the State Department’s operating manual and the U.S. code. “It was allowed,” Mrs. Clinton said. “I chose to do it, as others who had been in high official positions had, as well.”
Even the liberal-leaning Ms. Mitchell wasn’t buying this. “I don’t think there’s any precedent for anyone just relying on a personal email system at your level of government,” she replied. Ms. Mitchell went on to ask: “Did anyone in your inner circle say, ‘This isn’t such a good idea. Let’s not do this’?” Mrs. Clinton’s response: “I was not thinking a lot when I got in. There was so much work to be done.”
Translation: She was so buried with her new job, she didn’t think about the consequences of abandoning the department’s email system and setting up an unsecured private server in her basement for herself and her top staff.
Yet at least one question remains. Did anyone ask the State Department Office of the Legal Adviser for permission for her jury-rigged email arrangement? Or did she simply decide its legality on her own?
On Saturday the Washington Post revealed that a State Department tech staffer, Bryan Pagliano, was hired to set up and maintain her private server. Since her husband and daughter also used the server, Mr. Pagliano was paid directly by the family, the Clinton Foundation or another related entity. Government employees must report this outside income, which cannot exceed 15% of their annual salaries. Yet Mr. Pagliano did not list these payments on his annual financial disclosures for the years 2009 to 2013, which would violate the law.
Did Mrs. Clinton or her people consult either the State Department’s Office of the Legal Adviser or the U.S. Office of Government Ethics to receive permission for this highly unusual arrangement?
Then there is Huma Abedin, who in June 2012 was granted “special government employee” status. The Office of Government Ethics says Congress created this designation in 1962 to allow “experts, consultants and other advisers” to be temporarily brought into government without having to “forego their private professional lives as a condition of temporary service.” A special government employee may serve “for not more than 130 days during any period of 365 consecutive days.”
So while Ms. Abedin was a State Department employee making $135,000 a year, she was also employed by Teneo, an international consultancy founded by President Bill Clinton’s former adviser Doug Band. The firm’s website proclaims that “we sit at the center of information and networks, offering unparalleled execution to capture opportunities and solve complex problems.”
In addition, Ms. Abedin was a contractor to the Clinton Foundation and at some point was also paid by Mrs. Clinton personally, drawing as many as four paychecks.
When Ms. Mitchell asked about this arrangement, Mrs. Clinton distanced herself. “I was not directly involved in that,” she said, which is hard to believe since she was both Ms. Abedin’s boss and paying her personally. Then Mrs. Clinton offered her stock defense of Ms. Abedin, saying, “Everything that she did was approved, under the rules, as they existed, by the State Department.”
The same question arises: Did Mrs. Clinton or her office ask the State Department’s Office of the Legal Adviser for approval? Was Ms. Abedin’s unusual arrangement blessed by the department’s ethics officials, as the U.S. Office of Government Ethics recommends?
For months, Mrs. Clinton has made statements about her email server that have turned out to be misleading or false. The claim that everything was allowed looks to be the latest. The burden rests on Team Clinton: Produce the lawyers who approved these shenanigans.
A version of this article appeared September 10, 2015, in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline Hillary's Email Defense Demands Proof and online at WSJ.com.