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Senate Panel Launches Probe After Defense Secretary Admits Using Personal Email

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said an inspector general should review Defense Secretary Ashton Carter's admitted use of personal email, while the Senate Armed Services leader says his committee will be probing the matter.

Carter used a personal email account during the first several months of his tenure at the Pentagon despite the fact that he was issued a government email address as soon as he became secretary in February, the New York Times first reported last night.

“After reviewing his email practices earlier this year, the secretary believes that his previous, occasional use of personal email for work-related business, even for routine administrative issues and backed up to his official account, was a mistake,” said Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook. “As a result, he stopped such use of his personal email and further limited his use of email altogether.”

A former aide to Carter told the NYT that "the defense secretary used the personal account so frequently that members of his staff feared he would be hacked and worried about his not following the rules."

Traveling in Irbil, Carter told reporters, "I should have known better."

"It's not like I didn't have the opportunity to understand what the right thing to do was," he added. "I didn't do the right thing."

Carter was not specific about when he stopped using a private email account on his iPhone, just saying he ceased doing so "a few months ago."

"This is a mistake I made with respect to e-mail; entirely my mistake; entirely on me. First of all, let me begin by saying, in fact as secretary of Defense, I don't use e-mail very much. I certainly don't use it for classified information, and any work-related e-mail is preserved, as is required," he elaborated.

"But what I was doing that I shouldn't have been doing, until a few months ago, which meant I was doing it longer than I should have been, obviously, is using my iPhone, which has my personal e-mail on it, to send messages to my office -- administrative messages, not classified information. And all of this is preserved as a public record as it should be," Carter continued.

"But that I shouldn't have been doing. And I've stopped doing that, but that was a mistake. And to get to your question, I mean, particularly someone in my position and the sensitivities about the position should have known better. And there were plenty of people during the time that you're taking office and so forth who explain to you what the rules are about e-mail."

Carter was an assistant secretary of Defense under President Clinton and served as deputy secretary of Defense during President Obama's first term.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said he was made "aware that Secretary Carter has admitted to improperly using personal email to conduct government business."

"I believe that it would be appropriate for him to ask for the DOD Inspector General's assessment that no classified material was transmitted over unsecured channels," Thornberry said. "It would be prudent for this assessment to extend to Secretary Carter's time as Deputy Secretary of Defense as well. Congress should be briefed on the results."

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) noted that "with all the public attention surrounding the improper use of personal email by other administration officials, it is hard to believe that Secretary Carter would exercise the same error in judgment."

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been under fire for using a personal email server for years during her tenure. At least two of her emails contained top-secret information, according to an FBI review.

"The Senate Armed Services Committee has requested copies of the emails and will be conducting a review to ensure that sensitive information was not compromised," McCain said.

In September, the NYT submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to see Carter's emails from the unsecured email account.