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Senate launches bipartisan review of State's email policy

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Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who chairs the panel, along with Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., the ranking member, have been meeting over the last several weeks to discuss the email scandal. (AP Photo)

The top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are working together on a bipartisan, systematic review of the State Department's email and archiving policies in the wake of revelations that Hillary Clinton exchanged highly classified emails on her personal server.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who chairs the panel, along with Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., the ranking member, have been meeting over the last several weeks to discuss the scandal. The pair also plan to examine reports that former Secretary of State Colin Powell and possibly others used personal email accounts and shared classified material on them with staff.

"We are looking at it very closely and trying to figure out the best way for our committee to understand what happened and the best way to ensure that in the future, these types of things don't occur," Corker said Thursday.

Corker stressed that the committee is not launching a partisan investigation into Hillary Clinton's email problems, but instead a far broader, comprehensive review of State Department email policies and archiving practices over decades. The panel's review is still in a preliminary stage, and Corker said any steps he and Cardin take will be done jointly, in a bipartisan fashion.

"Because it's a serious issue, it's best that I work very, very closely with Sen. Cardin and we make sure that as we're looking at this we are looking at it in a judicious manner with the goal of looking at State Department operations, not trying to interject ourselves into a political campaign," he said.

He added that he plans to be "joined at the hip" with Cardin as they proceed.

The Tennessee Republican specifically also said the committee would not launch a full-fledged investigation akin to what House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, is planning.

A Cardin spokesperson confirmed the bipartisan nature of the review and said it would extend at least back through the policies and practices during the George W. Bush administration, if not before.

"This is oversight of a systemic problem going back many secretaries of state, all the back to Powell-Rice," the spokesperson told the Washington Examiner, referring to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "And Sen. Cardin is working with Sen. Corker to establish the facts, how email is used and taking a look at the problem of record-keeping in this electronic age and how it is archived."

Cardin and Corker in recent weeks have been meeting in a secure location in the Capitol to view some of the Clinton emails in question and discuss the latest developments involving her use of a personal email server throughout her tenure as secretary of state.

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., who chairs the Intelligence Committee, told the Examiner he hopes Corker and Cardin will look into how broadly people within the State Department use private emails and exactly who provides the waiver to allow these officials to deviate from the standard procedure of using government email.

Burr said he believes those decisions are up to Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy.

"That's under his purview," Burr said. "The question is, did he give all these people waivers, because there's quite a few that operate private emails on this email chain."

Burr said he cannot look into that issue himself because it falls outside his committee's intelligence community jurisdiction. His panel's oversight role in the Clinton email matter, he said, is to ensure that intelligence community documents are secure.

"With the FBI acquiring the server and the thumb drive and now with what seems to be a thorough review of the emails for classification purposes, our responsibility is pretty much done," he said. He said he was able to read many of the emails that other senators were not because of his role as Intelligence Committee chairman.

In late January, Corker said some of the Clinton emails were so secret that he hasn't been allowed to view them because they contained Special Access Program, or SAP material, which is considered more classified than "top secret" information.

Corker and Burr sent a joint letter to Intelligence Community Inspector General Charles McCullough III Jan. 14 inquiring about the classified information contained in the emails. The Clinton campaign then accused them of leaking McCullough's response to the press, which they both denied.

On Thursday, the State Department's inspector general determined that classified information was sent to the personal email accounts of Powell and the senior staff of Rice. None of the messages were marked classified when originally sent, and none of them were found to have included information from the intelligence community, the inspector general determined.

Powell immediately challenged the State Department inspector general's conclusion, and told NBC News that nothing that went to his personal account was secret.

The Clinton campaign has argued that the same applies to her — that the emails she and her staffer shared were not marked classified at the time they was sent, and the intelligence community has since deemed material in the emails as requiring classified markings.