Monday, March 9, 2015

Clinton Aide Breaks Cardinal Rule With Testy Emails

Kevin Allen, Ragan's PR Daily
If you’ve worked in public relations or media relations for a certain amount of time, you’ve probably had the urge at some point to send an angry email to a reporter.

Hopefully, you slept on it and thought better of it—either tempering your rhetoric or deleting your draft. But longtime Hillary Clinton aide Philippe Reines, though not specifically a PR pro, didn’t follow that advice.

In a series of lengthy (and often angry) email exchanges with reporters, Reines’ intention, no doubt, was to put an end to questions around the use of personal email for government business.

The story has dominated the news as the news media’s vetting process for soon-to-be presidential candidate Clinton has begun early. Clinton asked the State Department Wednesday to disclose her emails to the public and then tweeted her first ever response to a crisis situation via Twitter:

Reporter CJ Ciaramella reached out to Reines via email for comment. What followed was a now well-publicized series of exchanges, where Reines decided to bring in more reporters to the mix who had also written (in his estimation, unfairly) about the Clinton email scandal.

Here’s part of the exchange below (Gawker has the exchange with updated replies). Let us know what you think, PR Daily readers: Justified indignation, or ill-advised communications?
Email No. 1:

From: CJ Ciaramella
To: Philippe Reines
Date: Tuesday, March 3, 6:47 p.m.
Subject: Comment on private email address at State Dept
Hi Philippe,

This is CJ Ciaramella, a reporter for the Washington Free Beacon and Vice. Wondering if you have any response to this Gawker article alleging that you and Huma Abedin used private email addresses to conduct official government business while at the State Dept:
As I'm sure you well know, not archiving official business conducted on a private email address is a violation of the Federal Records Act. A FOIA request for your State Dept. emails is also currently being appealed. Please email or call: [phone number redacted]
CJ Ciaramella 

Email No. 2:

From: Philippe Reines
To: CJ Ciaramella, J.K. Trotter, Erick Wemple, Brian Stelter, Nick Merrill
Date: Tuesay, March 3, 9:57 p.m.
Subject: Email
Hi CJ. And hi JK.
Since this fundamentally comes down to honesty, transparency and accountability, I thought we'd go through an exercise together - with Erik Wemple of The Washington Post and Brian Stelter of CNN included as observers.
In your piece, which CJ references below, you wrote:
“'Her top staffers used those Clinton email addresses' at the agency, said the source, who has worked with Clinton in the past. The source named two staffers in particular, Philippe Reines and Huma Abedin, who are said to have used private email addresses in the course of their agency duties." 

That's a pretty clear assertion by you through your source that they had firsthand knowledge of my having and using an email account on the domain. You then wrote:
"We were able to independantly [SIC] verify that Abedin used a address at some point in time. There are several email addresses associated with Abedin’s name in records maintained by Lexis-Nexis; one of them is An email sent to that address today went through without bouncing." 

A few questions:
1) Did you attempt to verify your source's assertion of my use of such an email using the same creepy methods you did with my close friend and colleague Huma Abedin? Assuming you did, why doesn't your piece note the results of your creepy methods? 
 2) Did you attempt to send an email to me at that domain, and if so did it go "through without bouncing"? Assuming you did, why don't you note the results of your test?
3) If your lying liar pants on fire source worked with me at a federal agency as you and they contend, did you ask them to provide even a single email exchange with my using that account?
4) Better yet, in the off chance they don't have every single email they ever sent or received, have you availed yourself of the same FOIA laws to petition the lying liar's agency for any email between them and me that you have with our email? 

I mean, you either naively or knowingly swallowed quite the whopper. Not sure which is worse. Actually, that's not true. 

Now, on the subject of FOIA...
You have to ask State about your requests, appeals, etc. 
But while I have you I'm really hoping you can explain something to me. You wrote that "The use of private email addresses may explain the State Department’s puzzling response to several FOIA requests filed by Gawker in the past two years," continuing, "That request was confoundingly denied on the grounds that the State Department had no record of Reines—whose job it was to communicate with reporters—emailing Hastings or any other journalists." 

So, is your cockamamie theory that the reason there is no record of my emailing with reporters is because I improperly used my personal email address to email with those reporters in an attempt to circumvent FOIA, and that every one of the many reporters you reasonably assume I emailed with are in on this conspiracy of having only emailed with me on my non-official email? All sorts of media outlets reached out to me, including FOX and The Daily Caller. Are they in on it? Is everyone in on it aside from Gawker? 

Now, to answer your question: email is a two way street. You'd be surprised how many reporters deliberately email government officials to their personal accounts. You'd be equally surprised to know that when they did, I moved the exchange to my account because, between you and me, my personal account is about the last place I want to be emailing reporters or conducting work. 

Which brings me to my last question(s) - for both JK & CJ:
Have either of you ever deliberately emailed a US Government official anywhere other than their official address to discuss official US Government business? If so, why? Have you ever received an email from a US Government official from anywhere other than their official address to discuss official US Government business? If so did you ask them why?
Looking forward to your responses!

Email No. 3:

From: CJ Ciaramella
To: Philippe Reines, CJ Ciaramella, J.K. Trotter, Erick Wemple, Brian Stelter, Nick Merrill
Date: Wednesday, March 4, 2:30 a.m.
Subject: Re: Email
Hi Philippe,
And hello JK and Erik and Brian and Nick. It's wonderful that we can all be here, together.
JK can speak to his article, but the reason I'm interested in your response is because if, like you say, you didn't use private email and copied any work messages to your account, then State is either lying through its teeth or wildly incompetent, and flouting the Freedom of Information Act either way. That's a distinct possibility, although I'd note that Ben Smith tweeted out tonight that your exchange with Michael Hastings was conducted over a Gmail account.
CJ Ciaramella 

Email No. 4:

From: Philippe Reines
To: Ben Smith, Josh Gerstein, CJ Ciaramella, J.K. Trotter, Erick Wemple, Brian Stelter, Nick Merrill
Date: Wednesday, March 4
Subject: Re: Email
Good Morning All,
And let me welcome Ben to our little party, because, well, he’s flat out wrong.
Michael emailed me that morning on my State account, I responded from my State account, I even added a second State person’s State account to that exchange, and it entirely remained on our State accounts without my personal account being referenced or used in any way.
But hey, why let truth or facts get in the way of a good Tweet. 

And along those lines, I’ve also added Josh Gerstein of Politico since I’m now noticing that he is simply swallowing JK's dreck whole and stating it as fact. And so Gawker will be repeated over and over because someone flat out lied to them about my email habits, claiming firsthand knowledge that I had an account that I never did. Which was why I originally initiated this group exchange. Still looking forward to JK’s answers. 

As for your requests, I understand your point — and even your frustration — but I simply can’t address or explain any of that, the Department has to. That however doesn’t mean I and others shouldn’t be given the benefit of the doubt. As I think we can all agree, USG officials are permitted to use non-official accounts in the course of their job. There are reasons that happens. An outsider could email you at your personal account, maybe because they only have that address. Maybe their official email is on the fritz. Maybe they lost their device. Maybe they made a mistake. I don’t know. But again, there are legitimate non-nefarious reasons, and there should be a measure of benefit of the doubt afforded to people. In four years, I must have sent and received nearly half a million email. The vast vast vast vast majority, maybe four ‘vast’s, the overwhelming majority, whatever term means closer to 100% than 99%, that’s where I’m guessing my average is. If you want to skewer me over a non-100% rate, I can’t do much about that. 

From my perspective, if I were emailing with a reporter, I had to assume that it could end up in the public domain, as the exchange with Michael reminded me the very hard way. That’s just the nature of the beast, and what email account you use isn’t going to prevent that. Not to mention that much of what’s written to reporters is purposefully meant for the public domain since that’s the job. And believe me, I’d be far happier with you all having a field day poring through my largely boring and tedious email, than unfairly and erroneously reading that I intentionally undermined or circumvented the process. That frustrates me as much as State responses are frustrating you.
Anyway, hope this helps.

Email No. 5:

From: Ben Smith
To: CJ Ciaramella, Philippe Reines, CJ Ciaramella, J.K. Trotter, Erick Wemple, Brian Stelter, Nick Merrill
Date: Wednesday, March 4, 7:37 a.m.
Subject: Re: Email
Hey guys: this is my fault. I misremembered. I'm sorry for sewing confusion.
I have corresponded with Philippe on his gmail, but this was not that.
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