I spent much of last evening reading Huma Abedin’s deposition in Judicial Watch’s FOIA lawsuit, which has raised questions about Hillary Clinton’s email practices. Having taken many depositions myself, I enjoy reading transcripts and evaluating the witnesses and lawyers.
I wrote here about seeing the documentary Weiner, and said that I found Abedin to be more likable than I had expected. She came across well in her deposition, too. She answered questions in an intelligent, clear and responsive manner. Of course, the most seemingly cooperative witness might not be telling the truth about a key point. But based on the transcript, there is no reason to evaluate Huma as anything but a straightforward witness.
In general, her testimony was consistent with what we have heard from the Clinton camp, only more clearly stated.
I found this interesting: Huma wasn’t surprised when Clinton wanted to set up her own personal email account rather than using the State Department’s system, because she had done the same thing as a senator. (I have deleted objections from the colloquies below.)
Q Do you know why Secretary Clinton did not want to use a state-issued e-mail account for her state-related work?
A So from my understanding, I just saw it as continue doing what she was doing before she arrived at the State Department.
She had always had a personal device since she had started using e-mail. That’s what she used when she was in the Senate. She did not have a Senate.gov account. And she also did not have a Hillary Clinton campaign account.
She — I experienced it as continuing the practice that she had had prior to arriving at the State Department, and continuing to use her personal device.
Why did Hillary avoid official email accounts? It was a matter of “not wanting her personal e-mail to be accessible by anyone.” Huma rejected any suggestion that it was an attempt to avoid FOIA responsibilities:
Did the Secretary not want her personal e-mail account to be accessible pursuant to FOIA?
A I absolutely do not believe that, no.
Abedin said that her own practice was to use her State Department account for the “vast majority” of her official work. In general, she used her clintonemail account for “personal matters as they related to the Secretary and her family and her friends, and then my personal e-mails.” She acknowledged, however, that she did occasionally use her clintonemail account for official business. And, of course, Hillary Clinton used her clintonemail account exclusively. (“Q Well, because the Secretary used her e-mail account for State Department matters, as well. Correct? A Yeah. Yes, she — she absolutely did that. She absolutely did that.”)
Abedin pled ignorance with respect to the server that housed the clintonemail system. She thought in terms of email addresses and accounts, and didn’t think about servers. That is, I think, plausible.
Huma fell on her sword when it came to preserving data from her clintonemail account. She knew that this account was subject to FOIA, but failed to think about that when she and Clinton left the State Department:
Q When you used your Clintonemail.com account for State Department-related business, did you ever print and file the e-mails?
A No. I don’t believe I did.
Q Okay. Did you ever save the e-mails either as a PST or a PDF file?
A No, I did not.
Q Why not?
A Honestly, I wish I thought about it at the time. As I said, I wasn’t perfect. I tried to do all of my work on State.gov. And I do believe I did the majority of my work on State.gov.
And many of the instances where I was on Clinton e-mail, it was because I had forwarded something from a State.gov account into Clinton e-mail, and in other instances from my Clinton e-mail I was communicating with somebody who was on a State.gov account, and it was captured through there.
I — I did the best I could to do everything right. I — it did not occur to me to print and file.
Q Okay. With respect to those State Department work-related e-mails on the Clintonemail.com accounts, what did you do, if anything, to preserve those e-mails?
A I did — those — I did not do anything to preserve those e-mails.
Abedin testified that Secretary Clinton’s use of a clintonemail account was well known within the State Department, and Huma “assumed it was allowed.” She never was concerned that Clinton’s use of a private account could be a problem; “It didn’t occur to us.”
The issue of hacking came up, and the lawyer for Judicial Watch reviewed with Abedin an email thread where an attempt to hack into clintonemail was discussed. Here Huma was careful–appropriately so:
Q Where you write, “Don’t e-mail HRC anything sensitive,” HRC refers to Secretary Clinton. Is that right?
Q Okay. And then you write, “I can explain more in person.”
Q What did you explain to Ms. Mills and Mr. Sullivan?
A I — I don’t remember exactly the words that I used. But looking at this e-mail chain, I would have informed them in person what Justin had told me by e-mail.
Q That the server was hacked?
A I don’t believe that’s what his e-mail said.
Q Well, I’m sorry, but I thought you testified that you reviewed the document —
Q — and the documents have refreshed your recollection.
A Yes. Yes. Yes.
A No. He says someone was —
MR. BRILLE: Wait. Wait. Wait. There is no question pending right now.
Q After you reviewed the documents and your memory has been refreshed with respect to this e-mail exchange on January 9 and January 10, 2011 —
Q — what do you recall about the explanation that you provided to Ms. Mills and Mr. Sullivan?
A I wouldn’t be able to recall the conversation exactly. But having seen this chain, what I would have said is, Justin e-mailed me to tell me that someone was trying to hack the system, and I would have told them that. I would have told them that in person.
So Abedin’s testimony didn’t add to what we already knew.
The New York Post’s account of the deposition focuses on one particular exchange, and is headlined “Abedin admits Clinton ‘couldn’t do her job’ right with private server.” That vastly overstates what Huma actually said. This is the exchange, which related to an incident in November 2010 when an email from Hillary’s private account apparently went to trash. I have edited the exchange for brevity:
A I remember there being instances where we had, you know, communications issues. This appears to be one of those instances.
Q [Y]ou state, “We should talk about putting you on State e-mail [or] releasing your e-mail address to the department so you are not going to spam.”
Do you see that?
A Yes, ma’am.
Q When you wrote “releasing your e-mail address to the department,” can you explain what you meant by that?
A So let me just give you some context of how I would have experienced a situation like this.
Her initial e-mail was about a phone call with a foreign — a foreign foreign minister, which she missed and missed the call because she never got the — I never got her e-mail suggests — giving us the signoff to do it.
So she wasn’t able to do her job, do what she needed to do. … And, you know, she clearly missed the window in this exchange.
If you — just reading the exchange, she seems frustrated because she’s not able to do her job. I seem frustrated back because I’m not — so I — I couldn’t define to you exactly what that meant, but …
At the end of the email thread, Clinton suggested “Let’s get separate address or device, but I don’t want any risk of the personal being accessible.” But this never happened. Instead, Abedin testified, “As had happened in other instances, the matter resolved itself, or was resolved, and we went back to the — the prior practice.”
An obvious question was never asked: why did an email from Hillary Clinton’s clintonemail account get routed to spam on Abedin’s clintonemail account? By this time, Huma and Hillary had been emailing back and forth for nearly two years. Why would one of Hillary’s emails suddenly go to spam, causing her to miss a call with a foreign minister? In one of her emails, Abedin wrote that “Its not the phone message system, its the device delay.” I have no idea what that means, and the question wasn’t asked. One wonders, however: did Hillary’s email really go to spam, or did Hillary just forget to respond? It may be that no action was taken because there was never a technical problem in the first place.
In any event, magnifying this single incident into a claim that as a result of her private system Secretary Clinton “couldn’t do her job right,” in general, vastly overstates the case. There were several serious problems with Clinton’s home email system, but the risk of an email going to spam isn’t one of them.
Huma Abedin, like Hillary Clinton, refused to meet with the State Department’s Inspector General when he investigated the propriety of Clinton’s off-the-books email system. (He later issued a blistering report that found Hillary’s system to be illegal and contrary to State Department regulations.) Abedin’s testimony on this point was brief:
Q Were you contacted by the State OIG’s office in connection — in connection with their investigation?
A Yes. I was contacted through my attorneys.
Q Okay. And did you refuse to speak with the State OIG’s office in connection with their investigation?
A On the advice of my attorneys I did, yes.
This is, I think, a bit disingenuous. There could have been no legal objection to meeting with the Inspector General. What Huma means, I think, is that she refused to meet with him on Hillary Clinton’s orders.
In sum, Huma Abedin’s testimony didn’t add greatly to what we already knew about Hillary Clinton’s illegal server setup. It does, however, provide an interesting and coherent look behind the scenes at how Clinton ran the State Department. Nothing that we learn on that topic from Abedin inspires confidence in Hillary’s qualifications to be president.