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 e-mails were being stored, Clinton campaign spokesman Nick Merrill said in a statement.
“She directed her team to give her e-mail server that was used during her tenure as secretary to the Department of Justice, as well as a thumb drive containing copies of her e-mails 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 e-mails in March while asking that Clinton voluntarily turn over her personal e-mail server to a “neutral, detached and independent” third party.
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She had refused for months to surrender the server that she kept in her New York home, saying she already gave her work e-mails to the State Department before permanently deleting all e-mails from the server.
Since then, Clinton’s use of private e-mails 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 e-mails.
Revelations that dozens of Clinton’s e-mails 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 e-mails 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 e-mails 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 e-mails.
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.”
“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.”