Former secretary of state Colin L. Powell said in a statement Thursday that he was not trying to “influence” Hillary Clinton when he sent her an email telling her he used a personal computer attached to a private phone line to do business with foreign leaders and State Department officials, but rather to explain his own technological practices years earlier.
And for those practices, Powell offered no apologies.
“I have been interviewed by the State Department [inspector general] and the FBI about my actions and decisions,” Powell said in a statement. “I stand by my decisions and I am fully accountable.”
Powell issued the statement after Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) released a January 2009 email exchange between Powell and Clinton. Responding to a question from Clinton about restrictions on BlackBerry use, Powell wrote that he didn’t have such a device, but he did have “a personal computer that was hooked up to a private phone line.”
“So I could communicate with a wide range of friends directly without it going through the State Department servers,” Powell wrote. “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.”
Later, after writing at length about what he perceived as overblown concerns about spies accessing his devices, Powell advised Clinton that the “real danger” was that her correspondence on a BlackBerry could ultimately be made public.
“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. He added later: “Be very careful. I got around it all by not saying much and not using systems that captured the data.”
According to a report by the State Department’s inspector general, Powell had already acknowledged using a laptop on a private line and sending notes to ambassadors and foreign ministers via personal email, and a representative said he did not retain or print those emails.
Clinton’s presidential campaign has been dogged by her own use of a private email server — which critics have suggested could have potentially allowed classified information to fall into the wrong hands — though the FBI investigated it thoroughly and found no evidence that it had been hacked. Nor did they find any substantive reason to charge Clinton or her aides with any crime.
In releasing the Powell-Clinton email exchange, Cummings said Powell had provided Clinton a “detailed blueprint on how to skirt security rules and bypass requirements to preserve federal records.” Powell noted in his statement that Clinton “has stated that she was not influenced by my email in making her decisions on email use,” and said he was “not aware at the time of any requirement for private, unclassified exchanges to be treated as official records.”
“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. It was a private conversation similar to a phone call,” he said. “If I sent it to a state.gov address it should have been captured and retained by State servers.”
Clinton told FBI agents she understood Powell to mean any work-related communications would be government records and that they did not factor into her decision to use a personal email.