The State Department’s explanation of why Hillary Clinton did not sign the Separation Statement that every other State Department employee is required to sign upon resignation is quickly approaching the farcical. In Wednesday’s daily press briefing, State Department spokesperson and Hillary Clinton spinmeister Jen Psaki offered a new take on why Mrs. Clinton was excused from signing the form:
Secretaries of state often do not sign this form, as it is a step to revoking their own security clearance. There’s a long tradition of secretaries of state making themselves available to future secretaries and presidents, and secretaries are typically allowed to maintain their security clearance and access to their own records for use in writing their memoirs and the like. Hence, this is not a form that many would have signed.
None of that supports exempting the secretary of state from Department regulations requiring the return of all records, both classified and unclassified, at the end of her tenure. Indeed, as previously explained here, the secretary, like all State Department employees, is required to account for those records upon departure and may remove only those records, personal or unofficial, that the Department records official has specifically authorized in writing. As part of that separation process, every departing employee is required to sign a separation statement, which certifies, first, the return of all classified materials, and second, the return of all unclassified but official records. The Department records official then certifies compliance by the official with her records obligations. Secretary Clinton apparently did not sign any certification upon her separation.
Psaki’s suggestion is that signing such a certification would inevitably lead to the revocation of Mrs. Clinton’s security clearance. But that suggestion is plainly wrong. That this Separation Statement is part of the standard State Department security-clearance debriefing process is certainly correct. It is a necessary but insufficient part of that debriefing. Signing it would not constitute a revocation of a security clearance. Indeed, to the extent that it addresses classified information, it merely certifies the return of those classified materials, something Mrs. Clinton would be required to do whether or not she retained her security clearance. Nothing in the Department’s extension of that clearance beyond her employment would justify her retaining any classified information, and there is no indication that she had done so. Signing a records certification to that effect should be a normal part of departure in these circumstances, as Department regulations plainly require.
Ms. Psaki’s explanation, then, does not hold water. Requiring a separation statement from a departing secretary of state is perfectly consistent with the “traditions” extolled by Psaki. So some other explanation is still required for its absence in Hilary Clinton’s files. We have yet to hear an explanation that doesn’t sound like a rationalization.
But even assuming for a moment that Hillary Clinton’s retention of her security clearance was, in fact, the reason for her not signing Form OF-109, the question still remains of how Department records officials confirmed that she had returned her official, unclassified records. Did those officials sign the Department’s authorization for removal of records upon departure? And what assurances did Mrs. Clinton make to secure that authorization? False statements in that context would be just as damning as false statements on a signed separation statement. And if Mrs. Clinton purposefully avoided signing the separation statement in order to conceal her private e-mail system, her problems are only beginning. Many more questions still remain to be answered by Mrs. Clinton and the State Department.
— Shannen W. Coffin is a contributing editor to National Review. He is a partner at the Washington, D.C., law firm Steptoe & Johnson LLP and was a senior lawyer in the George W. Bush Justice Department and White House.