WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton is back in a familiar place: the center of a political controversy. Though she’s refused to address it so far, the firestorm surrounding Clinton’s exclusive use of private — rather than official — email during her time running the State Department is rapidly escalating, with Republicans and Democrats turning the issue into a political back-and-forth. The controversy has echoes of the 1990s when controversies ranging from Whitewater to Monica Lewinsky had a way of exploding into a partisan pile-on during the Clinton White House. As the accusations and denials fly, here’s a look at what you need to know.
Clinton lawyer takes on Republican Benghazi chairman
Hillary Clinton’s lawyer, David E. Kendall, sent Republicans and Democrats on the House committee investigating Benghazi, a statement on Wednesday morning refuting something Trey Gowdy, the committee’s Republican chairman, said about the email controversy.
Gowdy told reporters on Tuesday that Clinton used multiple personal email accounts to conduct government business.
“She used only private email accounts and she had more than one private email account,” Gowdy said.
Kendall, in an email obtained by CNN, said that claim is wrong.
“Secretary Clinton used one email account when corresponding with anyone, from department officials to friends to family,” Kendall wrote in an email to the committee.
Kendall explained that after Clinton’s email address was published in a 2013 Gawker story, “she changed the address on her account.”
“At the time the emails were provided to the department last year this new address appeared on the copies as the ‘sender,’ and not the address she used as secretary,” Kendall continued. “This address on the account did not exist until March 2103, after her tenure as secretary.”
Kendall is the same lawyer who represented Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal and his impeachment trial.
During his press conference on Tuesday, Gowdy hinted that there was a danger “when you selectively release or leak information, is you give a disproportionate amount of attention and importance to whatever you’ve leaked, which is why we don’t do it.”
What emails are we talking about? And where were they stored?
By using a private email system, Clinton and her aides had access to all emails that would have been backed up by the government if she had used an official account.
While she is not the first secretary of state to use a private email address — former Secretaries Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice both had private emails — Clinton is the first to exclusively use a private account. As opposed to Clinton, both Rice and Powell had and used an official government email address.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters the department asked former secretaries in 2014 to “submit any records in their possession for proper preservation.”
Hillary Clinton’s spokesman, Nick Merill, said when the Clinton’s received that request, they “immediately said yes.”
Aides have argued that Clinton had “every expectation” her emails would be automatically retained because she was sending them to other government accounts. A Clinton aide said Tuesday, that “nine out of 10 emails that she sent over the course of her tenure went to the State Department.”
That assumption, cybersecurity experts told CNN, makes the process of accessing all of Clinton far more difficult.
David Kennedy, CEO of TrustedSec and a former member of the Marines cyberwarfare unit, said that if Clinton expected her emails to be saved as received mail, not sent mail, it would mean archivists would have to look through nearly everyone’s email at the State Department, instead of just pulling from her State account, a far easier task.
Unlike personal emails, officials emails are backed up and kept by the government.
“When you move that over to a public email address or a personal account, you lose all of that backup capability, so there’s no way to actually go back and retrieve it,” Kennedy said.
The current set up also puts the decision making process of what to submit for the record in the hands of Clinton, not government archivists who would automatically have everything.
Although multiple Democratic sources told CNN that when the former secretary of state received State’s requests for records, her team quickly sent 55,000 pages of documents, there is no way to tell if that is all emails of interest.
“Secretary Clinton’s people have said that she provided anything that was responsive to our request for any records. If she did indeed provide everything then she would indeed be in compliance with her preservation requirements,” a senior administration official said.
The official could not, however, ensure that all of Clinton’s emails were preserved properly in accordance with federal rules.
A Clinton aide told CNN on Tuesday that they did comply fully with the request for all official emails.
Server housed a Clinton’s home, AP reports
The server for Hillary Clinton’s personal email address was housed at her home in Chappaqua, New York, according to analysis by The Associated Press.
The AP reported that Clinton’s private email account was set up by Eric Hoteham, someone who “does not appear in public records databases, campaign contribution records or Internet background searches.”
The wire service also reported that in November 2012 – months before Clinton left State in January 2013 – Clinton’s private email server was redesigned to use Google as a backup server. That was altered again, according to the AP, in July 2013 when Clinton’s email was backed up by a McAfee owned company.
“Amorphous” regulations changed multiple times
Democrats looking to protect Clinton have seized on the fact that regulations through the National Archives and Records Administration were changed multiple times before and after Clinton’s four years at State.
In 2009, according to a statement from Paul Wester, chief records officer for the archives administration, government employees were allowed – but strongly discouraged – from using private emails to government work. The regulations did stipulate, however, that “the agency must ensure that Federal records sent or received on such systems are preserved in the appropriate agency record-keeping system,” according to Wester.
In 2013 – after Clinton left the State Department – the archives administration sent agencies a bulletin to “reaffirm that agencies and agency employees must manage federal records appropriately and protect them from unauthorized removal from agency custody.”
The same bulletin said that personal email can only be used in “emergency situations,” and when used, the emails “are captured and managed in accordance with agency record-keeping practices.”
Late in 2014 – long after Clinton left State – President Barack Obama signed an update to the Federal Records Law to “prohibit the use of private email accounts by government officials unless they copy or forward any such emails into their government account within 20 days,” according to NARA.
Jason R. Baron, a lawyer at Drinker Biddle & Reath and the former director of litigation at the National Archives and Records Administration, said in an interview on Tuesday that is doesn’t appear Clinton “violated” the law because “the Federal Records Act is amorphous enough.”
But Baron also said the sole use of private emails was extraordinary.
“I was in the government for 34 years and, in my experience as director of litigation, I cannot recall an instance where a high level official — or anyone — solely used a private email account for the transaction of government business,” said Baron said.
Democrats say there is ‘nothing nefarious’ in State emails
Clinton aides and outside groups looking to protect the presidential frontrunner were quick to circle the wagons around the former secretary of state.
They pointed to the fact that other secretaries have used personal email, and knocked Republicans for “scandal mongering.”
“When it comes to the Clintons, they want us to disclose everything,” Donna Brazile, a longtime Clinton aide, said on CNN. “She has disclosed this information and she has complied.”
Correct the Record, a pro-Clinton group looking to protect Clinton, even attributed to kerfuffle around the meal to hoaxes around Bengahzi, the deadly 2012 terrorist attack that has hung like an albatross around Clinton’s neck since it happened.
“If you thought the last chapter of the Benghazi hoax was written and the book was closed, think again,” said Isaac Wright, the group’s executive director.
But quietly, some Clinton aligned Democrats were left shaking their heads at the revelations, wondering how someone with presidential aspirations could not see this was a problem.
Those feelings were kept private, though, because Democrats presented a unified front around Clinton, their best hope for winning the White House in 2016.
GOP quickly pounces
Republicans wasted not time to jump on an issue they see as a winning on. Their goal is to paint Clinton in the same way they pained her husband: A dishonest politician who pushes ethical boundaries and feel the rules don’t apply to her.
On Tuesday, as the controversy began, countless Republicans issued statements questioning Clinton’s motives, the RNC produced a web ad about the emails and opposition research groups filed Freedom of Information Act requests for her correspondence.
Not helping Clinton is the fact that the email controversy comes on the heels of a series of stories about the Clinton family charity, The Clinton Foundation, accepting foreign donations, including several while she was secretary of state, a violation of her agreement with the Obama White House.
“It makes you wonder,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said. “Did she use the private emails so she could conduct diplomacy and fundraising at the same time?”
Likely GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush tweeted that “unclassified Hillary Clinton emails should be released.”
Business executive Carly Fiorina said, “This once again raises serious questions as to Hillary Clinton’s definition of leadership.”
The strategy is similar to what Republicans did with Bill Clinton.
Ever since the Clintons stepped into the governor’s mansion in Arkansas, Republicans have accused the family of pushing and even crossing the lines of propriety — from a lack of transparency on financial investments to the parade of donors overnighting in the Lincoln Bedroom to Bill Clinton’s dishonesty before a grand jury that eventually led to his impeachment.
CNN’s Jim Acosta and Chris Frates contributed to this report.