After Hillary Clinton’s private email server was exposed, President Barack Obama told CBS News that he only learned about the email address from news reports.
CBS’ senior White House correspondent Bill Plante had asked Obama when he learned about her private email use. Obama responded: “The same time everybody else learned it through news reports.”
Later we learned that Obama had communicated with Clinton at least 18 times using her private email address. For those emails, Obama used a pseudonym, according to documents released by the FBI.
But new emails illegally obtained by Wikileaks show that Team Clinton was not happy with the president’s statement, and immediately worked to massage his message.
“[L]ooks like POTUS just said he found out [Hillary Rodham Clinton] was using her personal email when he saw it in the news,” wrote Clinton spokesman Josh Schwerin in a March 7, 2015 email to other staffers.
Clinton’s former chief of staff at the State Department, Cheryl Mills, responded: “[W]e need to clean this up – he has emails from her – they do not say state.gov.”
Lo and behold, two days later, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest changed his tune.
“The point that the president was making is not that he didn’t know Secretary Clinton’s email address, he did,” Earnest said. “But he was not aware of the details of how that email address and that server had been set up or how Secretary Clinton and her team were planning to comply with the Federal Records Act.”
Those FBI documents that revealed Obama used a pseudonym to communicate with Clinton didn’t include the actual emails, but did include a reaction from one of Clinton’s top aides, Huma Abedin.
Abedin had been shown an email exchange between her boss and Obama, but she wasn’t immediately aware that the sender was Obama, due to the pseudonym. But after she was made aware of who was sending the email, she reportedly “exclaimed” to the FBI: “How is this not classified?”
“Abedin then expressed her amazement at the president’s use of a pseudonym and asked if she could have a copy of the email,” the FBI report said.
During that same press conference, White House spokesman Earnest explained that Obama communicated with Clinton but didn’t know she used that private email address for official business, insisting the president and the secretary of state communicated on occasion.
“The president, as I think many people expected, did over the course of his first several years in office trade emails with his secretary of state,” Earnest said. “I would not describe the number of emails as large, but they did have the occasion to email each other.”
One of the few emails between Obama and Clinton we know anything about had the subject line “Re: Congratulations,” which some believe was a response to the Supreme Court upholding a key portion of Obamacare.
But did Obama only communicate with Clinton 18 times via email? And were those emails only personal in nature? Because if they weren’t, then Obama conducted official business over Clinton’s private server.
I find it hard to believe that Obama never had to email his secretary of state anything work-related in the four years she served. Perhaps there are more than 18 emails between them, or maybe Obama communicated with Clinton through her staff. Maybe they communicated over phone or in person.
Then, of course, there’s the theory that there are only 18 emails because of the negativity between Clinton and Obama following the contentious Democratic primary of 2008.
Obama might have only communicated with Clinton a few times on her private email account without knowing about the server, but that seems hard to believe given the depths to which Clinton and the State Department went to set up and maintain the server. It’s also hard to believe that Obama never noticed—or was never made aware—that Clinton’s emails never came from a state.gov account.