State Department Memo Conflicts With Claims From Top Security Official

State Department official claimed he did not know about private Hillary server

Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton / AP

A State Department official who told Congress he had no knowledge of Hillary Clinton’s private email server was included on an internal memo that discussed the server’s installation on March 17, 2009, the day it was allegedly set up.

The memo and other documents published by the watchdog group Judicial Watch on Wednesday conflict with claims that State Department security official John Bentel was unaware of Clinton’s personal email server.

Bentel has declined through his attorney to answer questions about the server from the Senate Judiciary Committee, citing a lack of knowledge. The committee has repeatedly sought testimony from Bentel over the past several months.

"According to his attorney, Randall Turk, Mr. Bentel knew nothing about the server at the time," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley in floor remarks on May 26. "Mr. Bentel’s attorney claimed that his client only learned of the controversial email arrangement after it was reported in the press."

Bentel’s attorney did not respond to request for comment.

The March 17, 2009 server memo was emailed Bentel and three other State Department security officials from a department IT officer. It was headlined "Secretary Residential Installation Hotwash." The term "hotwash" is a reference to a briefing that takes place after a consequential event.

The first bullet point on the memo discussed Clinton’s "Unclassified Partner System," which identified a server in the "basement telephone closet."

Clinton’s email server was reportedly set up on March 17, 2009, and she did not turn over any emails to the State Department that were sent or received before that date.

Judicial Watch received a copy of the memo, as well as other documents, as part of an ongoing public records lawsuit against the State Department. The document was previously mentioned in a State Department Inspector General report last month, which outlined extensive failures in the department’s public records process. However, the report did not list the recipients of the memo.

Other documents mentioned in the IG report raise additional questions about Bentel’s knowledge of Clinton’s server, according to Grassley. The report cited two State Department staffers who allegedly expressed concerns about the security of the setup to Bentel and were told to stop discussing the issue.

The Judiciary Committee chairman sent a letter to Bentel’s attorney on June 3, citing the discrepancies and again requesting an interview.

"At no time since I informed you of what we have learned from our interviews has Mr. Turk amended his position that you have ‘no memory or knowledge’ of these matters," wrote Grassley.

"Based on the OIG report, it appears that your attorney’s representations to the Committee may have been false and misleading," he added. "If the testimony to the Inspector General is true, then you did know of Secretary Clinton’s non-government email server and her private email use."

Turk responded on June 10 to say his client "respectfully declines this invitation, as he has with prior invitations," adding that Bentel had already discussed the issue with the House Select Committee on Benghazi.