A former State Department spokesman for Hillary Clinton denied using a private email address to conduct official government business in a lengthy email barrage that began Tuesday night and continued Wednesday.
Gawker reported on Tuesday that Huma Abedin and Philippe Reines, two longtime Clinton confidants, used private email addresses to conduct State Department business during Clinton’s time as secretary of state. Clinton has been embroiled in a public records controversy since Monday, when the New York Times reported that she exclusively used a private email address during her four-year tenure at the State Department, a possible violation of federal records law and clearly at odds President Obama’s much-touted transparency directives.
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Reines, a former communications staffer for Clinton who is well known for his voluminous and aggressive responses to reporters, fought back against the allegations in a series of emails to the Washington Free Beacon and numerous other outlets. Reines also included Gawker reporter J.K. Trotter on the emails, as well as the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple, and CNN’s Brian Stelter, BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith, Politico’s Dylan Byers, and The Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone.
Reines said Gawker’s report was a "cockamamie theory" and called its unnamed source a "lying liar pants on fire."
Gawker filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act in 2013 for emails between Reines and roughly 30 news organizations. A year later, the State Department denied the request, saying it could not locate any emails. Gawker is currently appealing that response.
Gawker, the New York Times, and other outlets have pointed to the response, as well as a long string of stonewalled FOIA requests, as evidence that emails from Clinton and her top staff were improperly shielded from public view.
In his email, Reines referred questions about the FOIA request to the State Department but said he was scrupulous in preserving his work emails.
"You’d be surprised how many reporters deliberately email government officials to their personal accounts," Reines wrote. "You’d be equally surprised to know that when they did, I moved the exchange to my state.gov account because, between you and me, my personal account is about the last place I want to be emailing reporters or conducting work."
"How about you, me and lying liar source take a trip to the polygraph store," Reines wrote in a follow-up email. "The three of us strap in and we let the needle decide. Loser pays and issues a public apology. I don’t need to know their identity until they lose."
Reines then lashed out at the Gawker reporter.
"But the real reason I am thrilled you asked is because in one sentence you’ve revealed your lack of professionalism, low standards and sheer cruel intent" Reines wrote. "It’s the purest window into your subjectivity, motivations and credibility you could possibly have invoked. Better than anything I’ve highlighted so far. So again, thank you."
However, neither current Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill or the State Department have given detailed answers about the use and scope of private emails in the Secretary of State’s office during Clinton’s tenure.
In a post Wednesday, Post reporter Erik Wemple noted that he had had several email exchanges with Reines while he was at the State Department, all of them on Reines’ official email account.
For now, the search for Reines’ missing emails, and for the reason they are missing, continues. The State Department did not return multiple requests for comment.
In a 2014 statement to BuzzFeed, a State Department spokesperson said: "The department’s FOIA staff has been in touch with Mr. Cook who has appealed his request. The department is committed to transparency and does its best to respond appropriately, and in as timely a manner as possible, to the thousands of FOIA requests that come in each year. We will continue to keep Mr. Cook updated on the status of his request."
Reines’ response is below. The entire exchange is posted at Gawker.
From: Philippe Reines
Date: Tue, Mar 3, 2015 at 9:57 PM
To: CJ Ciaramella, Keenan Trotter, Erik Wemple, Brian Stelter
Cc: Nick Merrill
Since this fundamentally comes down to honesty, transparency and accountability, I thought we'd go through an exercise together – with Erik Wemple of The Washington Post and Brian Stelter of CNN included as observers.
In your piece, which CJ references below, you wrote:
"'Her top staffers used those Clinton email addresses' at the agency, said the source, who has worked with Clinton in the past. The source named two staffers in particular, Philippe Reines and Huma Abedin, who are said to have used private email addresses in the course of their agency duties."
That's a pretty clear assertion by you through your source that they had firsthand knowledge of my having and using an email account on the clintonemail.com domain. You then wrote:
"We were able to independantly [SIC] verify that Abedin used a ClintonEmail.com address at some point in time. There are several email addresses associated with Abedin’s name in records maintained by Lexis-Nexis; one of them is email@example.com. An email sent to that address today went through without bouncing."
A few questions:
1) Did you attempt to verify your source's assertion of my use of such an email using the same creepy methods you did with my close friend and colleague Huma Abedin? Assuming you did, why doesn't your piece note the results of your creepy methods?
2) Did you attempt to send an email to me at that domain, and if so did it go "through without bouncing"? Assuming you did, why don't you note the results of your test?
3) If your lying liar pants on fire source worked with me at a federal agency as you and they contend, did you ask them to provide even a single email exchange with my using that account?
4) Better yet, in the off chance they don't have every single email they ever sent or received, have you availed yourself of the same FOIA laws to petition the lying liar's agency for any email between them and me that you have with our email?
I mean, you either naively or knowingly swallowed quite the whopper. Not sure which is worse. Actually, that's not true.
Now, on the subject of FOIA…
You have to ask State about your requests, appeals, etc.
But while I have you I'm really hoping you can explain something to me. You wrote that "The use of private email addresses may explain the State Department’s puzzling response to several FOIA requests filed by Gawker in the past two years," continuing, "That request was confoundingly denied on the grounds that the State Department had no record of Reines—whose job it was to communicate with reporters—emailing Hastings or any other journalists."
So, is your cockamamie theory that the reason there is no record of my emailing with reporters is because I improperly used my personal email address to email with those reporters in an attempt to circumvent FOIA, and that every one of the many reporters you reasonably assume I emailed with are in on this conspiracy of having only emailed with me on my non-official email? All sorts of media outlets reached out to me, including FOX and The Daily Caller. Are they in on it? Is everyone in on it aside from Gawker?
Now, to answer your question: email is a two way street. You'd be surprised how many reporters deliberately email government officials to their personal accounts. You'd be equally surprised to know that when they did, I moved the exchange to my state.gov account because, between you and me, my personal account is about the last place I want to be emailing reporters or conducting work.
Which brings me to my last question(s) – for both JK & CJ:
Have either of you ever deliberately emailed a US Government official anywhere other than their official address to discuss official US Government business? If so, why? Have you ever received an email from a US Government official from anywhere other than their official address to discuss official US Government business? If so did you ask them why?
Looking forward to your responses!
- I didn’t ask why you didn’t include Nick’s statement. I asked you why you didn’t include the results of your Lexis-Nexis search. Implication being you intentionally omitted anything that would refute your thesis. And they say spokespeople are evasive!
- Completely understandable given how very difficult and costly email is to send and you only have so many you can send a day. Not to mention the horrific consequences of a bounceback. Glad you didn’t take risk.
(NOTE: How about you, me and lying liar source take a trip to the polygraph store. The three of us strap in and we let the needle decide. Loser pays and issues a public apology. I don’t need to know their identity until they lose.)
Cockamamie Theory: Is it your belief that I orchestrated this from private life months after leaving my job at State? If yes, is it your belief that my long reach would rig something as implausibly stupid as the reply you got? That’s just insulting. I mean, it put me in a worse light than if they had just ignored you.
Non-USG Email Use: Talk about implausibly stupid replies, you would have to be the only reporter in America to claim that. If true though, very impressive.
To Your Questions:
- Sometime after I left State, can’t recall the specific date. Probably from your reporting actually. Will surprise you to know that you & I are in complete agreement on this ludicrousness.
- You can ask me this over and over and I still can’t answer why. Again, I’m with you on this one. I sent email, I received email, lots of email – so you have to ask the FOIA people what the problem is. If you find out, let me know – because it’s as frustrating to me as you. And I’m suffering from it more than anyone.
- Simple. I didn’t need a personal address, I had one.
- I’m not their IT guy. But nobody else at State.
- Michael Calderone, cc’d, Tweeted what was my preferred practice. And as Erik Wemple wrote, he emailed me several times at State in 2012 and I replied from State every time. My personal email was the last place I wanted reporters intruding. No offense.
- I addressed this in my email to you. Biggest reason people used a personal account was because their work email was down, which happened maddeningly not infrequently. And often in those cases you’d be emailing another State person whose email worked so it would be retained. And then when yours came back up, you’d revert.
- Thank you, I’m really glad you asked, for two reasons: 1) My third biggest regret about that exchange — the first being having it at all, second being losing my cool — was not replying one last time to respond to that remark. I don’t know what he was referring to. And given his death I’m reluctant to guess. But I think he was referencing a rumor that stemmed from State’s FOX reporter being removed from the State beat because of a sexual harassment charge against him by a colleague, and said reporter tried to blame me. Which never made sense why he thought that would work. But I guess it kinda did if you’re asking me more than two years later.
But the real reason I am thrilled you asked is because in one sentence you’ve revealed your lack of professionalism, low standards and sheer cruel intent. It’s the purest window into your subjectivity, motivations and credibility you could possibly have invoked. Better than anything I’ve highlighted so far. So again, thank you.
But I’ll sign off by reiterating our common ground: your FOIA request should be resolved in a manner far less ridiculous than it has been to date. If there’s such thing as an amicus brief for FOIA requests, count me in. Or better yet, I’ll jointly sign a new request for my email.