The White House, State Department and Hillary Clinton’s personal office knew in August that House Republicans had received information showing that the former secretary of state conducted official government business through her private email account — and Clinton’s staff made the decision to keep quiet.
Sources familiar with the discussions say key people in the Obama administration and on Clinton’s staff were aware that the revelation could be explosive for the all-but-announced candidate for president. But those involved deferred to Clinton’s aides, and they decided not to respond.
In the end, Clinton’s staff waited six months — until after the New York Times published a story on Tuesday about the email account and the possibility that it hampered public access to official records — to begin their response.
Clinton’s slow-off-the-block defense has left many political strategists and observers confused because even a presidential campaign in its early stages should have been prepared to get out ahead of bad news. Had the existence of the email address and private server been made public in August, they say, it could have become a marginal issue in the run-up to the midterm elections, which Democrats badly lost anyway and in which Clinton wasn’t a candidate. But the decision to let it linger has meant it will cast a much larger shadow over Clinton’s expected campaign announcement.
According to the sources, the problem came to light in August as the State Department prepared to respond to a request from the House Select Committee investigating the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. State Department officials noticed that some of the 15,000 pages of documents included a personal email address for Clinton, and State and White House officials conferred on how to handle the revelation, which they expected the committee to notice. But they felt that Clinton’s personal staff should take the lead, since she was no longer in government, and Clinton aides decided to wait and see.