On Jan. 23, 2009, two days after Hillary Clinton was sworn in as secretary of state, one of her predecessors, Colin Powell, emailed with some advice on what to do about her BlackBerry. Powell's advice was summarized in an FBI report on its July interview with Clinton about her use of a private email server, and Democrats on the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee released the entire exchange Wednesday night.
"I didn't have a BlackBerry," Powell wrote. "What I did do was have a personal computer that was hooked up to a private phone line (sounds ancient.) So I could communicate with a wide range of friends directly without it going through the State Department servers. I even used it to do business with some foreign leaders and some of the senior folks in the Department on their personal email accounts." Powell said he used an "ancient version of a PDA," or early smartphone, despite "all sorts of nonsense" from the NSA/CIA about "about how they gave out signals and could be read by spies, etc." He continued:
However, there is a real danger. If it is public that you have a BlackBerry and it it [sic] government and you are using it, government or not, to do business, it may become an official record and subject to the law.... Be very careful. I got around it all by not saying much and not using systems that captured the data. [Powell to Hillary Clinton]
Clinton told the FBI she didn't take Powell's advice, and Powell told People in August that "the truth is, she was using [the private email server] for a year before I sent her a memo telling her what I did," complaining that Clinton's people "have been trying to pin it on me." Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the ranking Democrat on the committee, said Powell provided Clinton "a detailed blueprint on how to skirt security rules and bypass requirements to preserve federal records," and accused Republicans of a double standard: "If Republicans were truly concerned with transparency, strengthening FOIA, and preserving federal records, they would be attempting to recover Secretary Powell's emails from AOL, but they have taken no steps to do so despite the fact that this period — including the run-up to the Iraq War — was critical to our nation's history."