Under fire from federal investigators and lawmakers, Hillary Clinton said late Tuesday that she would turn over to the Justice Department her private computer server, which she used to conduct government business while she was secretary of state.
Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for president, also will turn over a thumb drive in possession of her attorney in which her emails were being stored, Clinton campaign spokesman Nick Merrill said in a statement.
“She directed her team to give her email server that was used during her tenure as secretary to the Department of Justice, as well as a thumb drive containing copies of her emails already provided to the State Department,” Merrill said in a statement. “She pledged to cooperate with the government’s security inquiry, and if there are more questions, we will continue to address them.”
The House Committee investigating the fatal attacks in Benghazi, Libya in 2012 subpoenaed had Clinton’s emails in March while asking that Clinton voluntarily turn over her personal email server to a “neutral, detached and independent” third party.
She had refused for months to surrender the server that she kept in her New York home, saying she already gave her work emails to the State Department before permanently deleting all emails from the server.
Since then, Clinton’s use of private emails and server had become the focus of multiple inquiries by the FBI, two inspectors general and Congress. Several groups also have filed suit seeking access to the emails.
Revelations that dozens of Clinton’s emails now include classified information triggered fear among national security experts that the federal government’s secrets may have been exposed or even hacked.
On Tuesday, the inspector general for the Intelligence Community notified senior members of Congress that two of four classified emails discovered on the Clinton server contained material deemed to be “Top Secret” - one of the highest security classifications and more sensitive than previously had been known.
The State Department inspector general’s office also acknowledged earlier Tuesday that it is reviewing the use of “personal communications hardware and software” by Clinton’s former top aides, McClatchy reported.
Whether forensic computer specialists can retrieve any of the deleted emails is unclear.
“A sufficiently talented person could erase the deleted information well enough that even the NSA couldn’t read it,” Brian Reid, a cybersecurity expert with Internet Systems Consortium, said. However, he added that “If no effort was made to erase deleted data then it would be trivial to recover it.”
The issue has already harmed her Clinton’s standing in polls, where increasing numbers of voters say Clinton is not honest and trustworthy, in part, because of her use of private emails.
The Clintons learned as they fought through scandals while in the White House in the 1990s that “you have to put the bad news out and make the best of it you can,” said Andrew Smith, an associate professor of practice in the University of New Hampshire’s political science department. “For her to do it in August, after things are done, that’s a good time to do it.”
If Hillary Clinton believed in honesty and transparency, she would have turned over her secret server months ago to an independent arbiter, not as a last resort and to the Obama Justice Department. Reince Priebus, Republican National Committee chairman.
Smith noted that the movement behind Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s leading rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, seemingly creating impetus to put the controversy to rest.
“She just has to get it out, clear it up, get it out of the way and move on,” he said.
Smith said that of the available choices, turning the server over to the Justice Department “is the best she’s got. Her alternative is an amped-up congressional investigation. It’s better to do it with the administration who you have some pull with rather than a Republican Congress.”
Clinton has previously said that she regrets using a private email account for business while but only did so she did so only as a matter of “convenience.”
“I opted for convenience to use my personal email account, which was allowed by the State Department, because I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for my personal emails instead of two,” she said in March.
Clinton has turned over 30,490 work emails to the State Department in response to a request from the agency, but said that she deleted another 31,830 personal emails that she says included correspondence about her daughter’s wedding, her mother’s funeral, yoga routines and family vacations.
To date, the two agencies most critical to securing this information (FBI and State Department) have failed to assure the American people that they are taking the necessary steps to protect America’s national security interests. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley
But in June, after Clinton’s longtime confidant Sidney Blumenthal gave the House committee emails between him and the former secretary of state, the State Department realized it was missing all or part of 15 emails.
Republicans have accused Clinton of hiding something. Even Democrats had started to call on Clinton to say more.
Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, chided Clinton for her delays.
“All this means is that Hillary Clinton, in the face of FBI scrutiny, has decided she has run out of options,” said. “She knows she did something wrong and has run out of ways to cover it up.”
Clinton said she used a computer server that was set up for former President Bill Clinton’s office, which had numerous safeguards and was protected by the Secret Service.
Clinton will appear before the House committee Oct. 22.
“This past spring, Hillary Clinton asked the Department of State to publish the 55,000 pages of the work emails she provided to the Department last fall,” Merrill said. “As she has said, it is her hope that State and the other agencies involved in the review process will sort out as quickly as possible which emails are appropriate to release to the public, and that the release will be as timely and transparent as possible. In the meantime, her team has worked with the State Department to ensure her emails are stored in a safe and secure manner.”
The Justice Department and FBI declined to comment.