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By Michael A. Memoli
WASHINGTON — Hillary Rodham Clinton will turn over her private email server to the Justice Department, her presidential campaign announced Tuesday.
The decision comes weeks after government investigators said that her use of the server during her tenure as secretary of State led to a breach of classified information. Clinton has said she was confident she never sent or received information that was classified at the time.
Clinton’s use of a personal email account during her service in President Barack Obama’s Cabinet erupted into controversy this year as part of a congressional investigation into the attacks that killed four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012. Her personal office said that more than 62,000 messages were sent or received over four years covering her tenure as secretary, and half were later determined to be private and destroyed.
The rest were turned over to the State Department, and Clinton asked that the messages, totaling 55,000 printed pages, be made public.
But questions have nagged Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner, about whether all correspondence related to official business had been disclosed. Republicans leading the Benghazi Select Committee inquiry into the Libya attacks have questioned why Clinton herself was allowed to determine what constituted whether an email was personal or work-related and have pressed her to turn over her private email server.
The State Department and other agencies are reviewing her emails. A judge has ordered that they be released in batches once a month, ensuring that the controversy will dog Clinton’s campaign for months to come even if nothing scandalous turns up in the emails.
In March, Clinton had ruled out turning over her server either to the Benghazi committee or to a third party, in part because it contained personal communications between her and her husband.
“I have no doubt that we have done exactly what we should have done,” she said at the time.
The campaign didn’t immediately respond to a question about what led to the change of heart. But last month, news of the Justice Department involvement surfaced after the agency was told the State Department review turned up emails containing information that should have been marked and handled as classified. The Justice Department routinely checks into whether classified information has been mishandled. A State Department spokesman said in a statement Tuesday that portions of two emails that were circulated on unclassified systems should be upgraded to top-secret status.
In a statement, Clinton campaign spokesman Nick Merrill said the candidate hoped that the reviews would quickly determine which emails were appropriate to be publicly released, and that they would be released.
“In the meantime, her team has worked with the State Department to ensure her emails are stored in a safe and secure manner,” Merrill said. “She directed her team to give her email server that was used during her tenure as secretary to the Department of Justice, as well as a thumb drive containing copies of her emails already provided to the State Department. She pledged to cooperate with the government’s security inquiry, and if there are more questions, we will continue to address them.”
Clinton told reporters late last month that the issue of whether classified information had been mishandled had nothing to do with her and became an issue only because she pressed the State Department to release the emails she had turned over from her server.
“This is all about my desire to have transparency and make the information public,” Clinton said.
Clinton’s decision quickly became fodder for Republicans to renew attacks over her trustworthiness.
“If Hillary Clinton believed in honesty and transparency, she would have turned over her secret server months ago to an independent arbiter, not as a last resort and to the Obama Justice Department,” Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus said. “Of course, if she really cares about transparency, she would never have had a secret server in the first place.”