The State Department likely destroyed the BlackBerry devices issued to two top aides of Hillary Rodham Clinton and never issued Mrs. Clinton a device at all, officials told a federal court Wednesday in a filing that raises still more security questions about the former secretary’s email practices.
Administration officials will be in court Thursday to give more details about their search for the emails, which have become a political scandal for Mrs. Clinton and a major headache for President Obama’s administration.
Mrs. Clinton’s campaign aides continue to publicly wave off worries over the emails, casting it as a media feeding frenzy that doesn’t affect voters’ decisions as the former first lady and senator seeks Democrats’ 2016 presidential nomination.
“The press have a lot of questions about emails, but voters don’t,” Jennifer Palmieri, a longtime aide, said on MSNBC, saying Mrs. Clinton hasn’t “gotten one question about it” during town halls in New Hampshire and Iowa. “People are asking her [about] questions that affect their lives.”
Judges, however, are asking questions about the emails and the State Department’s efforts to try to recover as many of them as possible, and department officials have had to scramble to try to track down the emails and the devices that Mrs. Clinton and top aides Cheryl Mills and Huma Abedin used to send them.
On Wednesday, Ambassador Joseph E. Macmanus, executive secretary of the State Department, said his office never gave Mrs. Clinton any devices at all.
SEE ALSO: Hillary Clinton on wiping email server: ‘Like with a cloth or something?’
“[The department] does not believe that any personal computing device was issued by the department to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and has not located any such device,” he told the court.
Judicial Watch, the conservative public interest law firm whose lawsuit has forced the State Department to try to find the devices, said that answer wasn’t very comforting, since it means Mrs. Clinton must have been using her own BlackBerry — raising major national security questions.
“If the State Department was not providing secure email devices to Mrs. Clinton, who was? Best Buy? Target? Mrs. Clinton clearly did whatever she wanted, without regard to national security or federal records keeping laws,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said.
As for Ms. Abedin and Ms. Mills, Mr. Macmanus said they were issued BlackBerrys, but those can no longer be found. He said they were old by the time they were turned back in, and under department policy they were either “destroyed or excessed.”
Mrs. Clinton rejected a State.gov email account during her time in office, instead creating an email address tied to a server she kept in her home in New York. Prodded by the probe into the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack, she returned 30,490 emails to the State Department in December — nearly two years after she left office.
Those emails are slowly being released under a judge’s order, but some of the messages have had classified information redacted from them, raising questions about whether Mrs. Clinton was mishandling secret information by using a non-State.gov account.
She has insisted she didn’t send any classified information, nor did she receive any messages marked classified at the time, though some of them have been upgraded to classified since.
David E. Kendall, Mrs. Clinton’s lawyer, said in a letter to Congress that the server has been wiped clean — though he didn’t say who did that. Mrs. Clinton on Tuesday wouldn’t directly answer whether she’d deleted the messages herself, instead mocking a reporter’s suggestions that she “wiped” it. “What, like with a cloth or something?” she retorted.
Mr. Kendall, in his letter to Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, detailed his own involvement in holding Mrs. Clinton’s emails.
While he turned over paper records, which he said was department policy, he kept a flash drive with all of the messages in electronic form at his law office.
In July, when it became clear the emails contained classified information, the State Department gave him a safe to store the drive, and he said only he and his law partner, Katherine M. Turner, had access to the safe. He also said he and Ms. Turner hold top secret security clearances issued by the State Department.
He has since turned the flash drive and two copies over to federal investigators, and Platte River Networks, a Colorado company that took possession of the server when Mrs. Clinton was through with it, also turned it over.
But questions continue to be raised.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley sent a letter Wednesday demanding to know more about the process used to decide which emails are now classified, following reports in The Washington Times earlier this week that some of the review team has ties to Mr. Kendall and may be biased.
Mr. Grassley asked the department to turn over any internal complaints it’s gotten from those concerned employees and to detail any ties between Mr. Kendall and members of the screening team.
Mr. Grassley said, in one case, information was supposed to have been kept private and marked classified, but instead was marked “privileged” — a different exemption that could be used to hide the total amount of secret information Mrs. Clinton was communicating about through her email system.
About 5 percent of the 30,000 messages contain red flags that mean they might have classified information, and they need to be screened by intelligence community officers.
Mrs. Clinton did get some help from an unexpected quarter Wednesday when former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, one of her rivals for the Democratic nomination, said the emails are a distraction and shouldn’t define the presidential race.
Still, Mr. O’Malley wouldn’t say whether he thinks Mrs. Clinton is being honest, The Associated Press reported.