Problems related to Hillary Clinton’s private email setup got in the way of State Department business on at least one occasion, prompting the then-secretary of state to miss a call with a foreign government official, a top Clinton aide testified under oath this week.
The aide, Huma Abedin, questioned as part of a public records lawsuit brought by the conservative legal group Judicial Watch, said she and her boss were “frustrated” by the episode in which Clinton’s email messages were being blocked by spam filters.
As a result, Abedin recommended that Clinton consider getting a government email account that she could use alongside the personal system — an alternative that Abedin said was never implemented.
“She wasn’t able to do her job, do what she needed to do,” Abedin said, according to a deposition transcript released Wednesday.
Abedin’s testimony came amid a stream of other revelations regarding Clinton’s emails that have continued to dog the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee as she tries to put to rest the months-long controversy.
Using a private email server for official and personal business was Clinton’s decision, Abedin said, according to the transcript. “That was a decision that she had made,” Abedin said.
Abedin answered questions during a 5 1/2 -hour deposition Tuesday at her attorneys’ law firm.
Abedin, Clinton’s then-deputy chief of staff as secretary and now vice chair of her Democratic presidential campaign, told lawyers with Judicial Watch that, to her knowledge, Clinton never had an official account during her time in the Senate nor a 2008 presidential campaign account.
“From my understanding, I just saw it as continue [sic] doing what she was doing before she arrived at the State Department” and served from 2009 to 2013, Abedin said. “She had always had a personal device since she had started using email. That’s what she used when she was in the Senate.”
Abedin is the only other State Department employee known to have an account on the server. On Tuesday, Abedin said to her knowledge only she, Clinton and Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea, had accounts on the system.
Abedin testified that she was never asked to respond to a public records request during her time at the State Department and did not consider how emails sent on a private account might be searched in response to requests.
In 2015, two years after leaving office, Abedin testified that she was asked to turn over all federal records in her possession to the State Department. In response, she handed over a BlackBerry, two laptops and some paper files to her attorneys and asked them to search the contents and turn over all State Department- related material to the agency.
The State Department has, in turn, been releasing those records to Judicial Watch as part of the litigation in batches over time. The process is still underway, but Judicial Watch said Wednesday that it had so far located 127 of Clinton’s emails in those records that had not been among those Clinton herself gave to the State Department in December 2014. In all, more than 160 emails sent or received by Clinton have so far come to light that had not been included in her submissions.
Clinton has said she turned over all work-related emails in her possession. The new findings raise questions about the process her lawyers used to sift her work correspondence from personal notes she has said she deleted.
Clinton’s possible involvement in such matters could become a factor in whether a federal judge orders her to be deposed.
In a March 22, 2009, email chain released recently, Clinton asked how her records were being handled in a message to Abedin and another department aide, Lauren Jiloty, who had worked for Clinton in the Senate.
“I have just realized I have no idea how my papers are treated at State. Who manages both my personal and official files? . . . I think we need to get on this asap to be sure we know and design the system we want,” Clinton wrote.
“We’ve discussed this,” Abedin replied, “I can explain it to you when I see u today.”
In a Nov. 13, 2010, exchange, Abedin wrote Clinton after the secretary complained that some of her BlackBerry messages to staffers were getting blocked by the department’s spam filter.
“We should talk about putting you on state email or releasing your email address to the department so you are not going to spam,” Abedin wrote.
“Let’s get separate address or device but I don’t want any risk of the personal being accessible,” Clinton responded.
Asked about the exchange, Abedin said in the deposition that she could not recall why she recommended changing Clinton’s email setup or any discussions with Clinton about her response. She also said the secretary was unhappy about missing a scheduled call with a foreign minister.
“Just reading the exchange, she seems frustrated because she’s not able to do her job. I seem frustrated back,” Abedin said.
Abedin said she did not believe Clinton’s question about how records were being managed arose out of a concern that her personal emails would be accessible as public records through the federal Freedom of Information Act. “I absolutely do not believe that, no,” Abedin said.
Abedin said she never had concerns with Clinton’s private email use because “I assumed it was allowed.”
Abedin also said that when she read Clinton’s email asking about the handling of files that Clintonwas referring to paper records, not emails.
Abedin’s deposition was taken in a Judicial Watch case over the group’s 2013 FOIA request for records about Abedin’s employment arrangement. For the last six months of Clinton’s tenure, Abedin was employed simultaneously by the State Department, the Clinton Foundation, Clinton’s personal office and a private consulting firm connected to the Clintons.
Abedin’s lead attorney, Miguel Rodriguez, declined to comment.
In an interview, Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said, “I think it’s striking that even Mrs. Clinton’s top aide had concerns about how the system affected Mrs. Clinton’s ability to do her job.” He added, “We’re considering what next steps to take and what additional discovery we need.”
Abedin was the latest of a half-dozen current and former Clinton and department aides to appear for questions in the lawsuit, and by some measures was more forthcoming than some others deposed, at times answering questions even after her or the government’s lawyers objected.
A final scheduled deposition, of Undersecretary Patrick Kennedy, was completed Wednesday, and a transcript is expected later this week, at which point the federal judge in the case has said Judicial Watch may ask the court for permission to depose Clinton if the group argues that is necessary.