The United Nations is not a typical backdrop for an American politician to address a domestic political “scandal.” In fact, it might be unprecedented.
But that was Hillary Clinton’s chosen venue as she fielded questions (in her first news conference since she stepped down as secretary of state) that everyone knew would focus on her use of a private e-mail account for government correspondence.
Bill Richardson, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said he could not recall a similar occasion during his tenure when the United Nations was used for a personal political reason. “Celebrities and movie stars have had press events” there, he noted, “but only for plugging U.N. causes.”
Another observer, a top State Department official under George H.W. Bush, said there was nothing like it during that administration.
Some at the world body doubted that Clinton would hold a news conference there because it’d be so difficult for non-U.N. reporters to get media accreditation in time.
But Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill told reporters by e-mail that they needn’t worry. He promised that Clinton aides were working to get reporters access to the building and told our colleague Phil Rucker not to “climb on board the RNC’s Malarkey Express.” They’d “been working double-time to make this work with the help of USUN, and want to be as inclusive as possible,” he said, referring to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.
But some Washington reporters weren’t buying it.
CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller tweeted: “Looks like Hillary Clinton Team making it as difficult as possible for non-UN reporters to cover first oppty to ask about her e-mails.”
In the end, though most of the reporters were U.N. regulars, an estimated two dozen non-U.N. reporters were able to get in — and they asked most all the questions.
By tradition, the first question at a U.N. news conference is asked by the president of the U.N. Correspondents Association. But UNCA President Giampaolo Pioli, of the Italian paper Quotidiano Nazionale (National Daily), wasn’t in town Tuesday. We reached him in the Central African Republic and he said protocol would dictate that one of the other UNCA officers would do the honors.
That courtesy was indeed extended to the next officer in line, UNCA First Vice President Kahraman Haliscelik, the New York correspondent for Turkish Radio and Television.
He opened the questioning, asking about — what else? — the e-mails.
Several days before the world found out that Hillary Clinton used a private e-mail account exclusively for all communication as secretary of state, including work-related conversations, a Republican congressman sought to bar Internal Revenue Service employees from using their non-official e-mail for government business.
Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Tex.) introduced a bill on Feb. 27 directed at the IRS and intended to address allegations that former IRS official Lois Lerner used her personal account to discuss IRS matters. A House Republican-conducted report released in March 2014 said: “Her willingness to handle this information on a non-official e-mail account highlights her disregard for confidential taxpayer information.”
Marchant’s somewhat prescient legislation highlights a loophole in the Federal Records Act. While employees of the federal government are discouraged from using personal e-mail, it’s not barred. The law was updated in late 2014 to say that if personal e-mail is used for work, it must be turned over to be officially archived within 20 days.
In September 2014, during a House Oversight Committee hearing on the Lerner e-mails, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said it’s policy not to use personal e-mail.
“One of the things we’re doing is making sure everybody understands that you cannot use your e-mail for IRS business,” he said. “That’s been a policy; we need to reinforce that.”
But the IRS employee manual says only that “sensitive but unclassified” data can’t be e-mailed outside the IRS network — there’s nothing about an outright prohibition.
In the case of Lerner, House Republicans wanted her e-mails during their investigation into whether the IRS had targeted nonprofits for their political leanings when considering tax-exempt status.
Though the Clinton story shone a light on the federal government’s e-mail policy, Marchant’s office said he doesn’t have any plans to expand the bill to prohibit official business on all feds’ personal e-mail accounts.
Attorney General Eric Holder has been a lame duck for nearly six months, an extraordinarily long time since he said he wanted out.
But by next weekend he might finally get his long-awaited R&R. We hear he’ll take a few months to chill before figuring out which board he’ll join and what speeches he’ll give.
Our colleague Mike DeBonis reports that after much delay, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that he expects to bring the confirmation of Loretta Lynch to a vote sometime next week.
Lynch, nominated to succeed Holder more than 120 days ago, has languished in the GOP-controlled Senate, with some senators holding her nomination hostage over their opposition to President Obama’s executive action on immigration. But when the vote finally occurs, she’s expected to be confirmed easily.
Our colleague Paul Kane wrote last week about the slow-going process. He quoted the Senate Judiciary Committee’s ranking Democrat, Patrick Leahy (Vt.), as saying the White House and Senate Democrats should have moved faster on the nomination before the midterm elections. And after they lost the Senate, it was a calculation to hold off on Lynch, Kane reported:
“According to Leahy and Schumer, Democrats faced a choice: push Lynch through, or confirm as many nominees to the federal courts as they possibly could before handing over the majority in January.
“They chose the judges over Lynch, Leahy said, because federal judges receive lifetime appointments to the federal courts.
“ ‘I think that was a very good trade-off,’ Leahy said.”
Whenever the Senate does get Lynch into her Justice Department office, Republicans will finally be rid of Holder.
And he’ll finally be rid of them.
Twitter: @KamenInTheLoop, @ColbyItkowitz