State Department Purged Emails About Secret Anti-Netanyahu Campaign

Key emails deleted despite requirement to archive

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu / AP
July 12, 2016

A State Department official deleted emails that included information about a secret campaign to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the country’s last election, according to a Senate investigatory committee that determined the Obama administration transferred tax funds to anti-Netanyahu groups.

The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations disclosed in a massive report on Tuesday that the Obama administration provided U.S. taxpayer dollars to the OneVoice Movement, a liberal group that waged a clandestine campaign to smear and oust Netanyahu from office.

OneVoice, which was awarded $465,000 in U.S. grants through 2014, has been under congressional investigation since 2015, when it was first accused of funneling money to partisan political groups looking to unseat Netanyahu. This type of behavior by non-profit groups is prohibited under U.S. tax law.

The investigation determined that OneVoice redirected State Department funds to anti-Netanyahu efforts and that U.S. officials subsequently erased emails containing information about the administration’s relationship with the non-profit group.

The disclosure comes amid a massive effort by Congress to reform the State Department’s email practices in light of former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential frontrunner’s Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified materials.

The Washington Free Beacon revealed early Tuesday that new legislation would ban all State Department officials from using private email accounts and servers, as well as mandate annual reports about the leak of classified information.

A senior State Department official admitted to congressional investigators that he deleted several emails pertaining to the administration’s coordination with OneVoice.

"The State Department was unable to produce all documents responsive to the Subcommittee’s requests due to its failure to retain complete email records of Michael Ratney, who served as U.S. Consul General in Jerusalem during the award and oversight of the OneVoice grants," the report states.

Investigators "discovered this retention problem because one important email exchange between OneVoice and Mr. Ratney … was produced to the Subcommittee only by OneVoice," the report continues. "After conducting additional searches, the Department informed the Subcommittee that it was unable to locate any responsive emails from Mr. Ratney’s inbox or sent mail."

Ratney was ultimately forced to tell investigators that "[a]t times I deleted emails with attachments I didn’t need in order to maintain my inbox under the storage limit."

While Ratney had the option to archive emails—as required by the department—he did not do this. Ratney claimed he was not aware of the rule, stating he "did not know [he] was required to archive routine emails."

The deletion of the email chains appears to be a violation of the Federal Records Act, which mandates official records be archived for future disclosure purposes.

One source with intimate knowledge of the situation told the Free Beacon that the deletion of these emails is highly suspicious given the seriousness of the claims about the administration’s behavior.

"The Obama administration had the money, skills, and personnel to build a gigantic campaign infrastructure that was used to try to defeat the prime minister of an ally," the source said. "But apparently they didn't have what they needed to store the emails in which they did all of those things. That's certainly a lucky break for the State Department."

State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters Tuesday afternoon that he could not comment on the accusations due to the department's inability to thoroughly review the Senate's report.

"We’ve not had time to go through it closely, so I’m not going to be able to comment on specifics," Kirby said. "But I would note that the report makes clear there’s no evidence that OneVoice spent State Department grant funds to influence the Israeli election. Again, I just don’t have additional comment at this time."

Update 6:40 p.m. This post has been updated to include remarks by John Kirby.