When she was questioned by the FBI on July 2, Hillary Clinton “did not recall” any conversations she had about setting up her controversial private email server after becoming secretary of state.
She “could not recall” anybody raising any concerns with her about it.
Shown a cable that went out under her name, warning all State Department employees about security threats to their personal email accounts — and advising them not to use them for official business — Clinton drew a blank. She replied that all policy cables carried her name and “she did not recall this specific cable.”
So it went during her three-and-a-half-hour grilling, according to an official FBI report on Clinton’s interview that was made public by the bureau on Friday. During the course of her interview, Clinton was repeatedly unable to respond to many questions about her use of the private email server and the classified emails she sent on it. She said she “could not recall,” “did not recall” and “did not remember” 38 times, according to a Yahoo News tally of her responses recorded in the 11-page FBI report.
FBI director James Comey has told Congress that the bureau found no evidence that Clinton lied during the interview. Her responses for the most part track explanations she has given publicly.
But the language in the FBI report is a reminder of two crucial chapters in Clinton’s biography: She is a trained litigator who knows well the risks of testifying to answers about which she might not be certain. And, equally relevant, she is a veteran witness in multiple federal investigations, having been subpoenaed before a grand jury and questioned under oath on multiple occasions on everything from her Rose Law Firm billing records (which appeared mysteriously in her living quarters in the White House two years after they had been subpoenaed) to the firing of employees in the White House travel office and her long ago Whitewater real estate investment.
Still, some of her responses, especially those in which she appeared to be parrying her FBI interrogators, may not help her efforts to impress voters with her mastery of details. Questioned about State Department involvement in Obama administration drone strikes — a subject discussed in some of her classified emails on the private server — Clinton replied at one point that she “could not recall” the process for nominating a target for a drone strike and “did not recall” whether there was a State Department policy on whether to confirm classified information contained in media reports about the strikes.
Confronted by the FBI about one of her emails that was marked “C” for “Confidential,” the lowest level of classification, Clinton replied she “did not know” what the marking meant. She “could only speculate” as to its meaning, she said. Her speculation: The “C” may have been “referencing paragraphs marked in alphabetical order.”
Another part of the interview could prove political fodder for her critics, especially for the Trump campaign and its allies who have sought to raise questions about her health. The FBI questioned Clinton about what instructions she might have received about preserving federal records contained on her private email server when she was preparing to leave the State Department in early 2013. Clinton told the bureau she received no such instructions. But the FBI report notes that in December 2012 Clinton “suffered a concussion, and then around the New Year had a blood clot.” Based on her doctor’s advice, the report adds, “she could not work at State for a few hours a day and could not recall every briefing she received.” As a result, Clinton “was unaware” of the government requirement — embodied in a law known as the Federal Records Act — to turn over her printed records to the department when she left office.
Given the more than 30,000 work-related emails she sent and received during her tenure as secretary, it may not surprise voters that Clinton was unable to respond to the FBI’s questions about some of the emails the bureau considered problematic. Asked about an August 25, 2010, email about a New York Times report that a top aide to then Afghan President Hamid Karzai was on the CIA’s payroll, Clinton replied “she did not remember the email specifically.”
When questioned about a June 4, 2011, email with the subject line “RE: Google email hacking and woeful state of civilian technology,” a topic of arguable relevance to her private email server, Clinton stated “she did not recall the compromise of State employees’ Gmail accounts.” However, Clinton added, she did recall “the frustration over State’s informational technology systems.”
Yet another of her memory lapses is likely to fuel suspicions that there was more to her decision to use a private email server than “convenience,” as she has publicly explained it. It involved the handling of responses to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which would have potentially covered any email she sent that was government-related. Because she used a private server, those emails were never searched in response to FOIA requests. Shown a December 11, 2012, email with the subject line, “FW: Significant FOIA Report,” Clinton’s reply was that she “did not recall the specific request and was not aware of receiving any FOIA requests for information related to her email during her tenure as Secretary of State.” (In fact, a FOIA request seeking information on all her email accounts had been made by a liberal watchdog group in December 2012 and her top aide, Cheryl Mills, was alerted about it.)
But for all that she couldn’t remember, Clinton did remember and was emphatic on one point, according to the FBI report. She “never deleted, nor did she instruct anyone to delete, her email to avoid complying with the Federal Records Act, FOIA, or State or FBI requests for information.”