The messages criticized a source for being a “lying liar” and what the aide described as a reporter’s “cockamamie theory.”
The heated exchange was the latest chapter in the growing controversy over Clinton’s use of a private email address for official business when she was secretary of state from 2009 until 2013.
It began after Gawker writer J.K. Trotter published a story indicating two of Clinton’s top aides used “secret email accounts” while they worked for her at the State Department.
CJ Ciaramella, a reporter for Vice and the Washington Free Beacon, subsequently emailed Philippe Reines, a veteran Clinton communications aide, asking about the Gawker story. In his response, Reines CC’d multiple media critics and Trotter. Among other things, Reines’ email criticized Trotter’s “creepy” reporting methods and accused him of relying on a source who lied about Clinton.
Update (March 5, 2014 11:18 a.m.): An internal email Gawker editor-in-chief Max Read sent to Trotter and his executive editor for investigations, John Cook, was published on the site’s story about this chain. We included it here to ensure our version of the email chain is complete.
Trotter’s piece said an unnamed source who “has worked with Clinton in the past” alleged both Reines and another top Clinton aide, Huma Abedin, used private email addresses on the domain clintonemail.com when they worked under Clinton at the State Department. The accusation came on the heels of a New York Times report published Monday that suggested Clinton’s use of a private clintonemail.com address to conduct official State Department business may have violated federal regulations and prevented the government from preserving her communications.
Clinton’s team has insisted her use of the private email complied with the rulesand did not interfere with recordkeeping.
In his email to Trotter and Ciaramella, Reines vehemently denied he ever used personal email without including his government address.
Reines provided Business Insider with a copy of the exchange on Wednesday. In addition to Trotter and Ciaramella, Reines included Washington Post media reporter Erik Wemple and CNN’s senior media correspondent Brian Stelter. Reines explained his rationale for bringing Wemple and Stelter in the conversation at the beginning of his message.
“Since this fundamentally comes down to honesty, transparency and accountability, I thought we’d go through an exercise together – with Erik Wemple of The Washington Post and Brian Stelter of CNN included as observers,” Reines wrote.
Reines proceeded to offer a point-by-point rebuttal of Trotter’s article. In the story, Trotter wrote that Lexis Nexis records indicated Abedin had a clintonemail.com address. He also noted he wrote to the address listed in Nexis and the message did not bounce back. Reines dismissed this as “creepy” and questioned whether Trotter attempted to use similar techniques to check if he also had a clintonemail.com address.
“Did you attempt to verify your source’s assertion of my use of such an email using the same creepy methods you did with my close friend and colleague Huma Abedin? Assuming you did, why doesn’t your piece note the results of your creepy methods?” Reines wrote, adding, “Did you attempt to send an email to me at that domain, and if so did it go “through without bouncing”? Assuming you did, why don’t you note the results of your test?”
Reines went on to question whether Trotter’s unnamed source had been able to provide email exchanges proving Clinton’s aides used the private addresses.
“If your lying liar pants on fire source worked with me at a federal agency as you and they contend, did you ask them to provide even a single email exchange with my using that account?” Reines asked in the email, which was first reported by The Washington Post.
On Wednesday, Trotter sent a response to Reines, which he posted on Gawker. In it, he addressed each of the criticisms and defended his work.
Trotter’s initial story said the source’s claim that Reines and Abedin used private email addresses might explain “the State Department’s puzzling response to several FOIA requests filed by Gawker in the past two years.” The first of those requests was sent by Gawker in September 2012. Trotter said the request sought correspondence between Reines and a “variety of reporters” in the wake of a memorable, expletive-filled exchange Reines had with the late BuzzFeed reporter Michael Hastings in 2012.
“That request was confoundingly denied on the grounds that the State Department had no record of Reines—whose job it was to communicate with reporters—emailing Hastings or any other journalists (Gawker is currently appealing the rejection),” Trotter wrote.
Trotter also claimed a 2011 FOIA request from Gawker to the State Department asking for copies of Abedin’s correspondence was also denied.
In his email, Reines suggested the idea private email addresses would prevent the State Department from responding to FOIA requests for his communications with the media was a wild “conspiracy.”
“Is your cockamamie theory that the reason there is no record of my emailing with reporters is because I improperly used my personal email address to email with those reporters in an attempt to circumvent FOIA, and that every one of the many reporters you reasonably assume I emailed with are in on this conspiracy of having only emailed with me on my non-official email?” Reines asked. “All sorts of media outlets reached out to me, including FOX and The Daily Caller. Are they in on it? Is everyone in on it aside from Gawker?”
Last March, Business Insider filed our own FOIA request asking the State Department for records of Reines’ communications with several news organizations from the start of 2012 until after Clinton left her position as secretary of state in February 2013. A response sent to Business Insider by the State Department on March 21, 2014 indicated they would “being processing” the request and that they do have records of Reines’ emails with the media.
“Unusual circumstances (including the number and location of Department components involved in responding to your request, the volume of requested records, etc.) may arise that would require additional time to process your request,” the State Department response said.
The State Department, which has been criticized for failing to respond to records requests related to Clinton in a timely manner, rejected Business Insider’s request for expedited processing and has not returned any records of Reines’ communications.
Ciaramella responded to Reines and began with a greeting for the many reporters CC’d on the exchange.
“Hi Philippe, And hello JK and Erik and Brian and Nick. It’s wonderful that we can all be here, together,” he wrote.
Ciaramella went on to note that, if Reines’ claim he “didn’t use private email” is correct, then the State Department was “either lying through its teeth or wildly incompetent” in its response to Gawker’s FOIA request.
Ciaramella concluded by pointing out that BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith tweeted a claimed that Reines used a private Gmail account for his exchange with Hastings. This would seem to be solid evidence Reines was indeed using private email for State Department business.
Reines responded with another email where he looped in Smith.
“Let me welcome Ben to our little party, because, well, he’s flat out wrong,” Reines wrote. “Michael emailed me that morning on my State account, I responded from my State account, I even added a second State person’s State account to that exchange, and it entirely remained on our State accounts without my personal account being referenced or used in any way. … But hey, why let truth or facts get in the way of a good Tweet.”
Smith answered with an apology for the tweet, which he said was incorrect.
“Hey guys: this is my fault. I misremembered. I’m sorry for sewing confusion,” Smith wrote. “I have corresponded with Philippe on his gmail, but this was not that.”
Read the entire email exchange Reines sent to Business Insider below. It was lightly edited for consistent formatting and to remove all personal contact information.
From: CJ Ciaramella
To: Philippe Reines
Date: Tuesday, March 3, 6:47 p.m.
Subject: Comment on private email address at State Dept
This is CJ Ciaramella, a reporter for the Washington Free Beacon and Vice. Wondering if you have any response to this Gawker article alleging that you and Huma Abedin used private email addresses to conduct official government business while at the State Dept: http://gawker.com/source-top-clinton-aides-used-secret-email-accounts-at-1689246408
As I’m sure you well know, not archiving official business conducted on a private email address is a violation of the Federal Records Act. A FOIA request for your State Dept. emails is also currently being appealed. Please email or call: [phone number redacted]
From: Philippe Reines
To: CJ Ciaramella, J.K. Trotter, Erik Wemple, Brian Stelter, Nick Merrill
Date: Tuesay, March 3, 9:57 p.m.
Hi CJ. And hi JK.
Since this fundamentally comes down to honesty, transparency and accountability, I thought we’d go through an exercise together – with Erik Wemple of The Washington Post and Brian Stelter of CNN included as observers.
In your piece, which CJ references below, you wrote
“’Her top staffers used those Clinton email addresses’ at the agency, said the source, who has worked with Clinton in the past. The source named two staffers in particular, Philippe Reines and Huma Abedin, who are said to have used private email addresses in the course of their agency duties.”
That’s a pretty clear assertion by you through your source that they had firsthand knowledge of my having and using an email account on the clintonemail.com domain. You then wrote:
“We were able to independantly [SIC] verify that Abedin used a ClintonEmail.com address at some point in time. There are several email addresses associated with Abedin’s name in records maintained by Lexis-Nexis; one of them is firstname.lastname@example.org. An email sent to that address today went through without bouncing.”
A few questions:
1) Did you attempt to verify your source’s assertion of my use of such an email using the same creepy methods you did with my close friend and colleague Huma Abedin? Assuming you did, why doesn’t your piece note the results of your creepy methods?
2) Did you attempt to send an email to me at that domain, and if so did it go “through without bouncing”? Assuming you did, why don’t you note the results of your test?
3) If your lying liar pants on fire source worked with me at a federal agency as you and they contend, did you ask them to provide even a single email exchange with my using that account?
4) Better yet, in the off chance they don’t have every single email they ever sent or received, have you availed yourself of the same FOIA laws to petition the lying liar’s agency for any email between them and me that you have with our email?
I mean, you either naively or knowingly swallowed quite the whopper. Not sure which is worse. Actually, that’s not true.
Now, on the subject of FOIA…
You have to ask State about your requests, appeals, etc.
But while I have you I’m really hoping you can explain something to me. You wrote that “The use of private email addresses may explain the State Department’s puzzling response to several FOIA requests filed by Gawker in the past two years,” continuing, “That request was confoundingly denied on the grounds that the State Department had no record of Reines—whose job it was to communicate with reporters—emailing Hastings or any other journalists.”
So, is your cockamamie theory that the reason there is no record of my emailing with reporters is because I improperly used my personal email address to email with those reporters in an attempt to circumvent FOIA, and that every one of the many reporters you reasonably assume I emailed with are in on this conspiracy of having only emailed with me on my non-official email? All sorts of media outlets reached out to me, including FOX and The Daily Caller. Are they in on it? Is everyone in on it aside from Gawker?
Now, to answer your question: email is a two way street. You’d be surprised how many reporters deliberately email government officials to their personal accounts. You’d be equally surprised to know that when they did, I moved the exchange to my state.gov account because, between you and me, my personal account is about the last place I want to be emailing reporters or conducting work.
Which brings me to my last question(s) – for both JK & CJ:
Have either of you ever deliberately emailed a US Government official anywhere other than their official address to discuss official US Government business? If so, why? Have you ever received an email from a US Government official from anywhere other than their official address to discuss official US Government business? If so did you ask them why?
Looking forward to your responses!
Philippe Read the rest of this entry »
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