A number of Hillary Clinton defenders cite the talking point that she has turned over 55,000 pages of emails to the State Department and has therefore satisfied the requirement that she turn over all email from her private account to government archivists. But the State Department itself is being more cautious. Indeed, a look at Department spokeswoman Marie Harf's statements from the last two days suggests the Obama administration is not ready to vouch for its former secretary of state.
On Tuesday, Harf said, "We reached out to all of the former secretaries of state to ask them to provide any records they had. Secretary Clinton sent back 55,000 pages of documents to the State Department very shortly after we sent the letter to her. She was the only former secretary of state who sent documents back in to this request. These 55,000 pages covered her time, the breadth of her time at the State Department."
First note: Clinton did not volunteer the emails; she turned them over at the request of the State Department. And Harf did not say that the 55,000 pages were all of Clinton's emails. "Are you confident that all of those are in the records now?" asked one reporter.
"Well, again, as soon as we reached out to the former secretary, Secretary Clinton provided the emails covering the breadth of her time at the State Department on a wide variety of issues," Harf said. "It's my understanding that those were provided in that way." Harf also noted that official State Department accounts preserved emails Clinton sent to them, which Harf claimed accounted for the "vast majority" of Clinton's emails.
"So that's everything?" asked the reporter. "We're talking about the Retention Act. It doesn't say 'vast majority.' It basically is about all of them."
"Right," said Harf. "We reached out and asked her to provide them. She provided a large amount, those 55,000."
"But just say it's everything if you think — " said the reporter.
"Well how can I — I mean, I'm not in her email," Harf said.
"Did she say it was everything when she sent it back?"
"When she responded, she said this was what she had — is my understanding — that was pertinent here. Those aren't exact words, but that's my understanding."
Later, Harf returned to the 55,000 figure. "There's no prohibition on using this kind of email account as long as it's preserved," Harf said. "[Clinton] has taken steps to preserve those records by providing the State Department with the 55,000 pages, so — I'm not a NARA expert, but certainly, it sounds to me like that has been completed."
"Except that you wouldn't really have any way of knowing if she had provided everything," said a reporter, "unless you're just taking her at her word for it, correct?"
"I think 55,000 is a pretty big number, and it covers the time — date — from a date perspective covers the time that she was at the State Department," Harf said.
Still later, another reporter asked, "Is there any way of corroborating that everything that was provided by her office is in fact everything that she engaged in while she was Secretary of State?"
"Look all I can say is that we reached out to the former secretaries and asked them to provide any records that needed to be preserved," Harf answered. "She was the only former secretary that responded to our request and sent back those tens of thousands of pages of documents. That's what I can speak to. They cover her time at the State Department. I don't think I have many more details for you than that."
The bottom line is that at no point did Harf say definitively that Clinton had given the State Department all the emails. Harf said Clinton had turned over 55,000 pages, and she said those pages "cover" Clinton's term as secretary of state. She never said Clinton turned over all her emails, and in fact acknowledged that she had no way of knowing whether or not that has happened.
Harf returned to the subject the next day, Wednesday, after 24 hours to gather more information. But she knew nothing more than she did the day before.
"Yesterday you weren't ready to confirm that all her emails were now in the State Department's possession," a reporter asked. "Now you're pretty confident about that?"
"Well, what I'm saying is her staff has stated that anything related to her work has been given to the State Department," Harf answered.
"And you have no reason to doubt that?"
"Exactly. But this is obviously a confirmation her staff has to make."
What's clear from Harf's performance over two days is that the State Department does not know whether the 55,000 pages turned over by Clinton's staff represents all her work-related emails from her time as Secretary of State. To some observers, 55,000 pages -- pages, not 55,000 emails -- does not necessarily sound like the full contents of a top government official's email box. As Bloomberg's Mark Halperin noted Wednesday, "55,000? There might have been 255,000 pages … How do we know? That's not the way government accountability is supposed to work."