As former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton nears her goal of securing the Democratic presidential nomination she once again is testing the loyalty of even her most ardent supporters. A State Department inspector general report, released Wednesday, found that she had not sought permission to use a private email server while she was in office, contradicting her explanation that she has repeated throughout her campaign.
The report is damning, noting that she had "a personal obligation to discuss using her email account to conduct official business," but there was no evidence she sought or received approval from the State Department. The State investigation also was critical of Clinton's handling of emails under the Federal Records Act after she stepped down. While she later turned over thousands of emails, she had thousands more she considered personal destroyed. The government has now determined that more than 100 emails Clinton sent contain classified information.
Meanwhile, an FBI investigation into her email use continues, as well as other legal challenges, which all casts a dark cloud over her ongoing campaign. Clinton has repeatedly said that other Secretaries of State used a private email address. The State report found that Secretary of State Colin Powell, who served in President George W. Bush's first term, said he used a private address for unclassified emails. But at least two emails sent to him have now been marked classified.
The report also points out that the email rules were clarified before Clinton became Secretary of State to not allow the use of a private server because of "significant security risks." In November 2010, her deputy chief of operations recommended "putting you on State email" to shield her email from spam. She responded that she would consider using a separate address, but "I don't want any risk of the personal being accessible." The report says Clinton was sent a memo in 2011 warning of hackers trying to access private email accounts, and that she was given a personal briefing on the issue.
Why would the Secretary of State, who should know the rules of her department, seek to use a private server? In March 2015, Clinton told CNN, "I opted for convenience to use my personal account, which was allowed by the State Department, because I thought it would be easier to carry one device for my work and for my personal emails instead of two." She continued, "Looking back, it would have been better if I'd simply used a second email account and carried a second phone, but at the time, this didn't seem like an issue." This effort to minimize the issue flies in the face of State Department rules. While the State report found that neither Clinton nor Powell was directly told to end their personal email, there were plenty of warnings.
The FBI is looking into whether Clinton mishandled government information, which could result in criminal charges. The investigation reportedly centers on the failure to preserve government records and exposing government information to security risks. Clinton and her top aides are expected to be interviewed by the FBI in the near future. Clinton has described the FBI investigation as a "security inquiry." But FBI Director James Comey said he wasn't familiar with that term, instead calling it an investigation and adding that there is no external deadline. "I remain close to that investigation to make sure that it's done well and has the resources that are needed," he continued, "My goal in any investigation it to do it well and to do it promptly."
Meanwhile, Republicans immediately capitalized on the State Department findings. "This report underscores what we already know about Hillary Clinton: she simply cannot be trusted," House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement. Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House oversight committee, responded in a statement. "While Secretary Clinton preserved and returned tens of thousands of pages of her emails to the Department for public release, Secretary Powell has returned none." The statement concluded, "Republicans need to stop wasting taxpayer dollars singling out Secretary Clinton just because she is running for President."
The ultimate impact of Clinton's email controversy on her campaign will not be known until the FBI announces its findings. There is no question that the controversy plays right into the widely held perception that Clinton is not trustworthy. The presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump, is making the most of Clinton's troubles. He has branded her "Crooked Hillary," and he told a rally Wednesday night, "She's as crooked as they come, she had a little bad news today." However, recent polls show that Trump is even more unpopular than Clinton. And Trump's bullying, erratic behavior and outrageous statements have caused many Republicans to cautiously embrace his candidacy, and others to hold off on their endorsements.
While it may be nearly impossible for Clinton's Democratic opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders, to overtake her in the delegate count, he has pledged to take his fight to the Democratic Convention. A new poll, taken before the State Department report was released, shows Sanders has closed the gap among likely voters in the upcoming California primary.
Last September, in an effort to quiet the controversy, Clinton told ABC News that her use of private email was a "mistake," adding, "I am sorry about that. I take responsibility." Now, nearly one year later, the email controversy continues to gain momentum and roil her campaign. And the FBI has not yet spoken.