White House and State Department officials coordinated in early 2015 on how to handle the fallout from the disclosure that Hillary Clinton had conducted official business on a private email server while serving as secretary of state, according to emails released by the Republican National Committee this week.
The email exchanges, which the RNC obtained through a public-records lawsuit and were first reported by the Wall Street Journal, include one in which then-White House communications director Jennifer Palmieri asked the State Department spokeswoman at the time, Jennifer Psaki, whether there was a way in which Secretary of State John F. Kerry could avoid having to answer questions about Clinton’s email practices while appearing on television over the weekend.
The exchange between Palmieri, who now serves as the communications director for Clinton’s presidential campaign, and Psaki, who succeeded Palmieri as White House communications director, appears to refer to a March 15, 2015, appearance the State Department had arranged for Kerry on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
On March 12, Palmieri sent Psaki an email with the subject line “between us on the shows,” in which the body of the message read: “Think we can get this done so he is not asked about email.”
Fourteen minutes later, Psaki replied, “Agree completely, working to crush on my end:)”
RNC spokesman Raj Shah said the exchange showed that the administration “has treated the Hillary Clinton email scandal as a P.R. problem to be managed, rather than the grievous breach of national security it clearly is.”
But in an email Friday, Psaki called it “much ado about nothing.”
“To start with, the Iran negotiations were weeks away from a deadline, [Arkansas GOP Sen. Tom] Cotton had just written a controversial open letter to Iranian leaders, and the deteriorating situation in Syria remained front and center, and any communications professional would have advised his or her boss against going out to do a round of interviews,” she said.
In the email in question, Psaki added, she is advising that Kerry “not do Sunday shows at all.”
White House officials have acknowledged repeatedly that they have coordinated at times with Clinton and her aides on responding to media inquiries related to her activities as secretary of state.
“For years now, my boss Josh Earnest from the podium in the White House briefing room has acknowledged that our staff in the communications office in the White House will be in touch with Secretary Clinton’s team about stories that pertain to Secretary Clinton’s service to the Obama administration,” White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz told reporters aboard Air Force One on Friday. “The documents that were printed only seem to back up what Josh has been acknowledging for a while.”
The coordination appears to fall within federal rules for the kind of limited political activity White House officials can conduct.
The question about Clinton’s email did not come up in the Kerry interview CBS aired that Sunday; instead, it focused on the administration’s nuclear deal with Iran and Syria’s ongoing civil war.
CBS spokeswoman Caitlin Conant said the network did not negotiate with administration officials over what questions its State Department correspondent Margaret Brennan could ask Kerry.
“No subject was off limits when this interview was arranged, as is the CBS News standard,” Conant said. “CBS News’s State Department correspondent was in Egypt with Secretary John Kerry in the home stretch of the Iran nuclear deal negotiations and discussed policy issues of the day with him on this official trip.”
Asked whether the administration sought to influence CBS’s coverage of the email controversy, Schultz said, “That’s not my understanding. You’ll have to talk to the State Department about any engagements they had with media outlets.”
The Clinton campaign declined to comment on the matter, referring reporters to the State Department. “It is common practice for State Department and White House staffers to be in touch when agency officials are potentially conducting television interviews,” the agency said in a statement.
On Friday, the State Department released 273 pages of Clinton’s email that had been gathered by the FBI during the course of the investigation into her use of a private server during her time as secretary of state. Clinton has said that in December 2014, she returned to the State Department all emails she had in her possession that dealt with her work during her time as secretary. FBI Director James B. Comey has said the FBI recovered thousands of additional work-related emails, which have been turned over to the State Department for review. He said, however, that the agency found no evidence the emails had been purposely concealed.
The State Department is processing and releasing the emails in response to a court order from a lawsuit over a public-records request for Clinton’s correspondence. The judge’s order requires that the State Department release additional batches of emails on Oct. 21, Nov. 3 and Nov. 4 and then on a monthly basis after the election. Republicans have hoped the new material will result in damaging revelations about Clinton on the eve of the election.
Rosalind S. Helderman, Anne Gearan and Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.