The State Department has faced a lot of questions about former Secretary Hillary Clinton's secret email account, but the most fundamental one is: Do you have them all? Officials at State have said repeatedly that Clinton has turned over 55,000 pages of emails from her time at the department. But each time spokeswoman Marie Harf has been asked whether that material — 55,000 pages, not 55,000 emails — represents all of Clinton's State Department emails, she ends up citing Clinton's staff, who have told department officials that Clinton has turned over everything that is "responsive" to the department's request for documents. Clinton, of course, decided what is "responsive" and what is not.
On Friday, Harf faced another part of the question. Yes, Clinton's staff has said they have turned over everything, but is the State Department doing anything to make sure that's really true? It took a long time to get around to the answer, which is "No."
"Will any attempt be made to check whether these are all the emails, or will you just be accepting the secretary's word on this?" asked a reporter.
"Well, as we have said, her staff has said these were all the responsive emails they had to our request, and that's really a question for her staff to answer," Harf said.
"Well, no, no," said the reporter. "My question is: Will the State Department be attempting in any way to verify whether they are all the emails? I mean, what I imagine is there are various methods you can use to look at whether they're in sequence or whether there are gaps. I mean, will there be any attempt to verify this?"
Harf didn't have an answer. "Well, a couple points," she said. "First, as I've said, it covers the breadth of her time at the State Department. So it covers the span of when she was here. But — "
"The request does, but — " the reporter interjected.
"No, the records in response cover — the emails she gave us back cover the breadth of her time at the State Department."
"How do you know that? How do you know they're all — "
"Because I know when she started and when she left," Harf said, "and they correspond to that and they cover all of the time in between."
Reporters were still skeptical. "But you don't know that there's gaps or deleted emails or some that just weren't sent," one said.
"Well, of course," Harf conceded. "But like — there's not, like, two months missing, right?"
"But you don't — you can't say for sure."
"Correct," Harf said.
Later, Harf compared Clinton's production of emails to the process by which the State Department answers Freedom of Information Act requests. According to Harf, State depends on the official involved to give everything to the office that answers FOIA requests. But reporters wanted to know: Is there any way to check whether the employee has handed everything over?
"You're saying that the State Department — for all FOIA requests, it relies on the goodwill of the individuals?" a reporter asked.
"I am not saying that for all — I'm not making a general statement about FOIA, and I'm also saying it's not about goodwill," Harf answered. "What I am saying is, in general, each employee is responsible for being responsive to records requests, document requests. I'm not going to get into 'always,' but — "
"That sounds like goodwill if it's up to the employee himself to do it."
"No, it's not goodwill," Harf insisted. "It's a responsibility."
And that is what the State Department's position comes down to. Harf says officials have all of Clinton's emails but concedes that she doesn't actually know for sure that officials have all of Clinton's emails. And that it is Clinton's responsibility, not the State Department's, to make sure that State has all of her emails. And that the department relies on employees to produce their own emails, although she will not get into whether the department "always" operates that way.
Which points to a larger problem in the Clinton email affair. Everything we know about it — or everything we think we know about it — comes from Hillary Clinton. Day after day, Harf has attempted to pass along information from the Clinton camp as fact, only to concede that she doesn't really know if it is fact or not. The State Department's official position appears to be to trust Clinton while admitting that they have no way to know whether that trust is justified. Is that a good way to find out what really happened?