WASHINGTON – The email practices of Hillary Rodham Clinton, who used a private account exclusively for official business when she was secretary of state, grew more intriguing with the disclosure Wednesday that the computer server she used traced back to her family’s New York home, according to Internet records reviewed by The Associated Press.
The unusual practice of a Cabinet-level official running her own email server would have given Clinton — who is expected to run for president in the 2016 campaign — significant control over limiting access to her message archives.
It also would complicate the State Department’s legal responsibilities in finding and turning over official emails in response to any investigations, lawsuits or public records requests. The department would be the position of accepting Clinton’s assurances she was surrendering everything required that was in her control.
The White House said it was Clinton’s responsibility to make sure any emails about official business weren’t deleted from her private server.
“There’s a responsibility that’s associated with that, which is it’s important to ensure that when official business is conducted on personal email, that those records are properly maintained and preserved,” spokesman Josh Earnest said. He added there was no security review planned for Clinton’s email server.
The AP said Wednesday it was considering taking legal action against the State Department for failing to turn over some emails covering Clinton’s tenure as the nation’s top diplomat after waiting more than one year. The department has failed to meet several self-imposed deadlines but has never suggested that it doesn’t possess all Clinton’s emails.
It was not immediately clear exactly where Clinton’s computer server was run, but a business record for the Internet connection it used was registered under the home address for her residence in Chappaqua, New York, as early as August 2010. The customer was listed as Eric Hoteham.
An aide to then-first lady Clinton was identified in a 2002 congressional report as Eric Hothem, whose name is spelled differently than in the Internet records. Hothem was not available to take a phone call when reached at his office Wednesday.
A parody Twitter account for Hoteham appeared Wednesday after the AP cited the records, sending satirical tweets supporting Clinton’s campaign. Hoteham’s name had not appeared with that spelling in public-record databases, campaign contribution records or online background searches.
In most cases, individuals who operate their own email servers are technical experts or users so concerned about issues of privacy and surveillance they take matters into their own hands.
Clinton — who emailed so frequently using her Blackberry as secretary of state that it became an Internet meme — is particularly sensitive about disclosures of personal files based on her experiences in confronting congressional investigations and civil lawsuits during her husband’s election and presidency and her own roles as first lady, senator, presidential candidate and Cabinet official.
Most Internet users rely on professional outside companies, such as Google Inc. or their own employers, for the behind-the-scenes complexities of managing their email communications. Government employees generally use servers run by federal agencies where they work. Clinton’s email practices appear to be far more sophisticated than some politicians, including Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin, who were found to have been conducting official business using free email services operated by Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc.
Clinton has not described her motivation for using a private email account — firstname.lastname@example.org, which appears to include a nod to her middle name, Diane. A spokesman for her did not respond to requests seeking comment from the AP on Tuesday or Wednesday. Clinton did not mention the issue during a speech Tuesday night at the 30th anniversary gala of EMILY’s List, which works to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights.
Operating her own server would have afforded Clinton additional legal opportunities to block government or private subpoenas in criminal, administrative or civil cases because her lawyers could object in court before being forced to turn over any emails. And since the Secret Service was guarding Clinton’s home, an email server there would have been well protected from theft or a physical hacking.
But homemade email servers are generally not as reliable, secure from hackers or protected from fires or floods as those in commercial data centers. Professional facilities provide monitoring for viruses or hacking attempts, regulated temperatures, offsite backups, generators in case of power outages, fire-suppression systems and redundant communications lines.
It was unclear whom Clinton hired to set up or maintain her private email server. The Hoteham registration is also associated with a separate email server, presidentclinton.com, and a nonfunctioning website, wjcoffice.com, all linked to the same residential Internet account as Mrs. Clinton’s email server. The former president’s full name is William Jefferson Clinton.
Mrs. Clinton’s email options included using an official State Department account or even a secret agency email address, which the AP revealed in 2013 as a common practice across the U.S. government and by previous administrations. Many senior U.S. officials use alternate addresses that aren’t disclosed to the public for official business so they are not inundated with unwanted messages.
But the State Department’s email system might not have been attractive to Clinton because it is frequently targeted by hackers. The AP revealed in 2006 and 2014 that the agency had suffered significant electronic break-ins. In the most recent incident, the department took the unprecedented step of shutting down its entire unclassified email system. While Clinton was secretary of state in 2010, a U.S. soldier, Chelsea Manning, stole 250,000 diplomatic cables and turned them over to WikiLeaks, which published them online.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., chairman of the special House committee investigating the Benghazi attacks, said the panel learned last summer — when department documents were turned over — that Clinton had used a private email account while secretary of state. More recently the committee learned that she used private email accounts exclusively and had more than one, Gowdy said.
“It doesn’t matter if the server was in Foggy Bottom, Chappaqua, or Bora Bora,” House Speaker John Boehner said Wednesday. “The Benghazi Select Committee needs to see all of these emails, because the American people deserve all of the facts.”