A former top official in the U.S. State Department testified that he raised concerns about deleted emails from Hillary Clinton's personal email system.
Clinton set up and used a private email server for the majority of her time as secretary of state during the Obama administration. John Hackett served as deputy director and then director of the department’s Information Programs and Services from 2013-16, which handles document management for Freedom of Information Act requests among other things.
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Hackett said he was concerned over news that the Clinton team had segregated and then deleted about 30,000 emails out of a larger batch set to be turned back over to the department, and what criteria the team had applied when deciding which emails to delete.
Hacket was answering the questions under deposition as part of a FOIA lawsuit still underway by conservative watchdog Judicial Watch.
Hackett: I recall it wasn't much of a conversation. I—I was—I mean, I have to say, it was emphatic to the Under Secretary of Management—and I didn't speak in tones like that very often to him—you know, that we needed these—you know, the guidelines.
Judicial Watch: Why did you feel so strongly that this was necessary, that they provide this information?
Hackett: Well, we heard that there were 50,000 or 60,000 emails, and that they had—"they" being the Secretary's team—had culled out 30,000 of these. And which is—so we wanted to know what criteria they used. The standard from the National Archives is very strict. If there was—if there were mixed records, that would be considered a federal record. If it was mixed personal and mentioned a discussion, that would be—under the narrow National Archives rules, it would be considered a federal record.
Judicial Watch: And do you know if the emails that were returned by Secretary Clinton and her attorneys, if they followed that guideline to include an email that would include mixed information, personal and official?
Hackett: I don't know.
The 30,000 deleted emails were a source of controversy throughout the 2016 campaign.
In another part of the deposition, Hackett said he also voiced concerns about how some of Clinton's emails were handled in response to FOIA requests, adding he thought some bureaucrats used the wrong legal exemption to withhold or redact some information.
"I believe that some bureaus were convinced, or—and analysts were convinced, once it was explained to them, to redact something but use a B5 exemption [which applies to deliberative process and allows government officials to discuss policy without the discussions being made public, or attorney client privilege] versus a B1 [national security] exemption."
If any of the emails with a B5 "national security" exemption ended up in her personal email account, Clinton would have faced additional scrutiny for possibly mishandling classified information.
Hacket also said he became worried about how the state department was responding to FOIA requests after seeing a now-infamous photo of then-Secretary Clinton with a Blackberry phone device.
"In fact, I advised [a coworker] that we should stop giving No Record Located responses until we come to—kind of come, you know—find out what that BlackBerry meant, come to ground about what was known about the former Secretary's e-mailing habits," he said.
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said that the testimony conflicts with claims that Clinton and other Democrat officials were unaware of any potential violations of federal record-keeping policies. He called Hacket's testimony "disturbing," adding that federal prosecutors should consider further investigating Clinton's actions.
"This disturbing testimony points to an Obama administration conspiracy to hide and destroy Hillary Clinton emails," Fitton said in a press release. "Even worse, the testimony suggests Clinton's Benghazi emails were under-classified in order to protect Hillary Clinton (and mislead Congress). Attorney General Barr needs to prioritize reopening the Clinton email investigation."
The state department did not respond to requests for comment.
Disclosure: Judicial Watch is the counsel for the reporter of this article in a separate, unrelated open records lawsuit.