DEM 2016 Clinton Emails
DEM 2016 Clinton Emails

CAPITOL HILL - Hillary Clinton hasn’t had an easy week.

Between Democratic opponent Bernie Sanders’ request for a recount in the Kentucky presidential primary and presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump’s revival of scandals from her husband’s presidency in the 1990s, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination has faced numerous challenges.

The latest blow landed Wednesday when an internal State Department audit found that the former secretary of state’s use of personal email to conduct government business was “not appropriate,” and that she failed to follow guidelines intended to prevent cybersecurity risks.

Congressional Republicans said the report showed Clinton isn’t fit to be president, while Democrats downplayed the implications for national security and the general election in November.

Watch video report from VOA's Zlatica Hoke:

Trump opened a campaign rally in California on Wednesday by calling Clinton “as crooked as they come,” and said the inspector general’s report was “not good.”

Sanders had previously said he didn't want to talk about Clinton's “damn emails,” but that could change as he continues his primary election fight despite trailing in the delegate totals.

FILE - A portion of an email from Hillary Clinton'
FILE - A portion of an email from Hillary Clinton's private account when she was secretary of state released by the State Department on Sept. 30, 2015, shows it was received early on Aug. 3, 2011.

Congressional reaction

Former Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio, a senator from Florida, said the report was “along the lines of what we’ve been warning about for quite a while. She [Clinton] violated State Department policies and she didn’t cooperate with that investigation."

South Carolina Representative Trey Gowdy, chairman of the Select Committee on Benghazi, reacted to the finding by noting that the public had learned about the emails only because of congressional oversight.

Gowdy has conducted a two-year investigation into the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012. In the course of investigating Clinton’s role in the incident, the committee uncovered her use of a private email address and storage of government emails on private servers.

“If anyone wonders why the investigation is not yet complete, the malfeasance and numerous problems identified in this report are Exhibit A,” Gowdy said in a statement Wednesday.

Dan Donovan, a Republican from New York, said he had not had a chance to read the full report, but that the findings, if true, were “disturbing” and should play a role in the general election.

“People should realize she’s untrustworthy, she’s dishonest and one thing that we have to have in the White House is integrity, and this is another display of her inability to be honest with the American people,” Donovan told VOA.

Representative Steve Russell, a Republican from Oklahoma, told VOA that Clinton’s use of email was “troubling on several accounts. No accountability, no admission that putting state secrets on a public server could absolutely be used by our enemies.”

Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia told VOA he didn't think there was any evidence that Clinton's email practices had any consequences for national security. "The Obama administration has tried to be very scrupulous about rules. Every administration, especially an eight-year administration, you see some questionable things. But I think they have run a very clean ship,” he said.

Representative Steve Israel, a Democrat from New York, noted, “This problem predates Secretary Clinton and was a problem for years before her.”

FILE - Then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clint
FILE - Then-U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton hands off her mobile phone after arriving to meet with Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in The Hague, Netherlands, Dec. 8, 2011.

Pattern of confusion

The report found a pattern of confusion regarding State Department email procedures among previous secretaries of state.

The internal audit found that former Secretary of State Colin Powell “installed a laptop computer on a private line,” and that he used the laptop to send emails via his personal email account to his “principal assistants, individual ambassadors and foreign minister colleagues.”

The report also found the State Department labored under outdated technology and was "slow to recognize and to manage effectively the legal requirements and cybersecurity risks associated with electronic data communications, particularly as those risks pertain to its most senior leadership."

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said, "We are already working to implement numerous improvements to our email and records management systems, many of which were underway before the IG review began."

But the report singled out Clinton’s use of email to conduct government business as an area of particular concern. 

"By Secretary Clinton's tenure, the department's guidance was considerably more detailed and more sophisticated," the report found. "Secretary Clinton's cybersecurity practices accordingly must be evaluated in light of these more comprehensive directives."

Clinton has previously said her decision to use private email was the “wrong choice." In a statement released by her campaign Wednesday, Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon said, "Contrary to the false theories advanced for some time now, the report notes that her use of personal email was known to officials within the department during her tenure, and that there is no evidence of any successful breach of the secretary’s server."

Clinton also is the focus of a separate FBI investigation into whether her use of private email servers endangered government secrets.

VOA's Michael Bowman contributed to this report from Capitol Hill. VOA's Pam Dockins contributed from the State Department.