Former Secretary of State Colin Powell told his successor, Hillary Clinton, that he used his own personal computer to communicate with friends and foreign leaders and sent emails without going through the State Department server, according to emails released Wednesday by congressional Democrats.
Clinton has previously said she reached out to Powell when she began serving as the nation’s top diplomat to find out how he used personal devices. In a four-paragraph email response from Powell, he told Clinton he didn’t use a BlackBerry, but detailed how he got around having his communications with both employees and people outside the State Department becoming part of the agency’s official record.
“What I did do was have a personal computer that was hooked up to a private phone line (sounds ancient). So I could communicate with a wide range of friends directly without it going through the State Department on their personal email accounts. I did the same thing on the road in hotels,” Powell wrote.
Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state has loomed over her presidential campaign and spurred intense criticism from Republicans. The email exchange between Clinton and Powell was released Wednesday by the State Department after Democrats on the House Oversight Committee pressed for it. They complained the full exchange was not part of earlier email document releases from the department that Republicans in Congress have asked for as part of their probe into Clinton’s email use.
In a statement, Powell said he “was not trying to influence her but just to explain what I had done eight years earlier to begin the transformation of the State Department’s information system.”
“I have been interviewed by the State Department IG and the FBI about my actions and decisions. I stand by my decisions and I am fully accountable,” Powell said.
He has repeatedly pushed back against reports suggesting that he might have given Hillary Clinton the idea to use a private email account as Secretary of State, telling media outlets last month that “her people are trying to pin it on me.”
In February, the State Department inspector general released a memo after its own review of private email practices by others, reporting it found two emails on Powell’s private email and some on accounts of aides to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that included classified information.
Powell also told Clinton in 2009 “the real issue had to do with PDAs, as we called them a few years ago before Blackberry became a noun.”
He said officials at the State Department refused to allow them in secure spaces and when he resisted “they gave me all kinds of nonsense about how they gave out signals and could be read by spies, etc.”
Powell says officials had concerns about mobile phones, too, but tells Clinton: “I had numerous meetings with them.”
He also revealed that he had “an ancient version of a PDA and used it.”
The FBI’s report on Clinton’s email use includes information about Powell’s warning to Clinton that using a government email meant her messages would become public.
In the email exchange Powell wrote “there is a real danger.”
“Government or not, to do business, it may become an official record and subject to the law,” he said.
He added: “Be very careful … I got around it all by not saying much and not using systems that captured the data.”
Powell’s spokesperson recently told CNN that he wrote a memo about his own use of an AOL account to Clinton and said the account was for “unclassified messages and how it vastly improved communications within the State Department.”
Stressing the major differences in technology between his tenure at the department and Clinton’s, the spokesperson said: “At the time there was no equivalent system within the department. He used a secure State computer on his desk to manage classified information.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee who released the full email exchange, said that it “shows that Secretary Powell advised Secretary Clinton with a detailed blueprint on how to skirt security rules and bypass requirements to preserve federal records, although Secretary Clinton has made clear that she did not rely on this advice.”
The Maryland Democrat also argued Republicans who have been pressing for documents from the State Department had a double standard for their concern about use of private email, saying if they were worried about the issue, “they would be attempting to recover Secretary Powell’s emails from AOL, but they have taken no steps to do so despite the fact that this period-including the run-up to the Iraq War-was critical to our nation’s history.”
In addition to advising Clinton about government communications, Powell gave his assessment about the security protocols, not just for email, but for movements. He bristled at the restrictions they wanted on him, and recommendations that he be accompanied by agents.
“You will find DS driving you crazy if you let them,” he said. And in what may be a reference to Madeleine Albright, he says: “They had Maddy tied up in knots.”
Powell said he wouldn’t let security agents live inside his house so they had to find a garage nearby. He also revealed “on weekends, I drove my beloved cars around town without them following me,” which he said they “hated” and made him sign a letter “relieving them of responsibility if I got whacked while doing that. I gladly did.”
He closed his email, saying about the department officials “their job is to keep you hermetically sealed up. Love, Colin.”