House Democrats on Wednesday released an email exchange between Colin Powell and Hillary Clinton in which Powell explains how he used a personal computer to do some of his state department work.
“I didn’t have a BlackBerry. What I did do was have a personal computer that was hooked up to a private phone line (sounds ancient.) So I could communicate with a wide range of friends directly without it going through the State Department servers,” Powell, who served as secretary of state for four years under President George W. Bush, wrote in a January 2009 email to Clinton.
“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,” he added.
Powell’s email came in response to a January 2009 inquiry from Clinton, asking whether he used a Blackberry while he served as secretary of state.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, said in a statement that the “email exchange shows that Secretary Powell advised Secretary Clinton with a detailed blueprint on how to skirt security rules and bypass requirements to preserve federal records, although Secretary Clinton has made clear that she did not rely on this advice.”
“This email exchange also illustrates the longstanding problem that no Secretary of State ever used an official unclassified email account until the current Secretary of State,” Cummings added. “If Republicans were truly concerned with transparency, strengthening FOIA, and preserving federal records, they would be attempting to recover Secretary Powell’s emails from AOL, but they have taken no steps to do so despite the fact that this period—including the run-up to the Iraq War—was critical to our nation’s history.”
In August, the New York Times reported that Powell offered Clinton advice on how to use a personal email account. Clinton told the FBI that Powell had advised her on email use. But Powell pushed back against the reports.
“The truth is she was using it for a year before I sent her a memo telling her what I did,” he said in August. “Her people have been trying to pin it on me.”
In his email to Clinton, Powell did warn her about the potential for her personal emails to become public.
“However, there is a real danger. 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,” he wrote. “Be very careful. I got around it all by not saying much and not using systems that captured the data.”
He also explained to Clinton that the State Department would not let him use a Blackberry in secure spaces.
“When I asked why not they gave me all kinds of nonsense about how they gave out signals and could be read by spies, etc.,” Powell wrote. “I had numerous meetings with them. We even opened one up for them to try to explain to me why it was more dangerous than say, a remote control for one of the many tvs in the suite. Or something embedded in my shoe heel.”