By Husna Haq, Correspondent March 11, 2015
Despite the Obama administration’s best efforts to distance itself from the controversy over Hillary Rodham Clinton’s e-mail practices at the State Department, e-mail-gate may be spilling over into another important office: the White House.
Questions are now coming about President Obama’s e-mail practices, and whether he uses a private e-mail account, as did Mrs. Clinton, who held a press conference Tuesday denying claims she did anything improper in using her own private e-mail server and address for government business.
The White House won’t say whether the president, who famously won a battle to keep his Blackberry while in office, uses a private e-mail address, citing security concerns.
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“We have made clear that part of the security precautions we take around that e-mail account is not talking about it much publicly,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said, according to reports.
But he did emphasize that all of Mr. Obama’s e-mails are being kept and recorded.
“The President’s expectation when sending or receiving an e-mail from any Cabinet Secretary is that’s going to be preserved, maintained, and archived in accordance with the Federal Records Act,” Mr. Schultz said.
Obama has recently come under scrutiny regarding his knowledge of Clinton’s e-mail practices while secretary of State.
Asked when he had learned of the former secretary of State’s e-mail arrangement, Obama told CBS on Sunday, “The same time everybody else learned it, through news reports.”
But Obama e-mailed Clinton, the likely Democratic frontrunner for 2016, several times at her personal e-mail address, suggesting he knew she used an address different from the government-sanctioned one.
In fact, according to reporting by Politico, revelations that Clinton used a personal e-mail account for government business first surfaced in August, as the State Department prepared to respond to a request from the House Select Committee investigating the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
“Department officials noticed that some of the 15,000 pages of documents included a personal email address for Clinton, and State and White House officials conferred on how to handle the revelation, which they expected the committee to notice.”
It turns out the committee didn’t notice, and Clinton’s team – and the State Department and White House – decided to stay mum.
Six months later, after the revelations came to light, the president, however, has maintained that he did not realize that Clinton was using an independent, “home-brewed” e-mail server.
“[H]e was not aware of the details of how that e-mail address and that server had been set up, or how Secretary Clinton and her team were planning to comply with the Federal Records Act,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told a briefing at the White House on Monday.
As Clinton continues to feel the heat over her e-mail practices, the White House is working overtime to distance itself from the controversy, shifting responsibility to Clinton’s team and State Department officials, while insisting Obama’s e-mails are in line with federal record laws.
The 1950 Presidential and Federal Records Act wasn’t updated until November 2014, after Clinton had stepped down from the State Department, as both Clinton and her supporters have noted. “The law expanded the definition of ‘federal records’ to specifically include electronic communications. The law also clarified the responsibilities of federal government officials when they use nongovernment email systems, which includes copying an official record or forwarding a complete copy of the e-mail within 20 days of transmission,” notes The Washington Post in a timeline of events.
Still, as Politico reports, the flap has put the White House in the uncomfortable position of defending the expected presidential candidate, while distancing the president from the mess.
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While the White House has been mum about Obama’s email practices, Clinton’s successor, Secretary of State John Kerry, uses a government e-mail account, according to The New York Times.
And according to Time, at least 12 sitting Cabinet members in the Obama administration say that they do not exclusively use a personal e-mail account for official business, as the former secretary of State did.
“Spokespersons for the top officials at the departments of Defense, Treasury, Health and Human Services, Education, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, Interior, Homeland Security, Energy and Justice all told Time that they use an official email account to conduct government business,” the site reported.
In fact, earlier this week, Mr. Earnest said he had not “encountered” a senior White House official who only uses a personal e-mail account.
Official guidance on e-mail use for Administration employees: Use government e-mail when conducting official business and forward any relevant e-mails from a personal account to properly preserve the record