A new report from the State Department inspector general found that Caroline Kennedy, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, used a personal email account to send and receive messages containing official business.
The news surfaces amid the ongoing controversy surrounding Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton’s own use of a personal email account and server while she served as secretary of state.
The IG’s Office of Evaluations and Special Projects began investigating the Japan embassy’s email use after receiving reports that staff was using private accounts for their work, according to the report. Investigators found senior diplomats were using personal emails — and some messages contained sensitive but unclassified information.
“Department policy is that employees generally should not use private email accounts (for example, Gmail, AOL, Yahoo, and so forth) for official business,” said the report, which was released Tuesday.
The finding was part of an IG inspection of the U.S. embassy in Tokyo from Jan. 6 through March 27. The report made 65 recommendations to improve the embassy’s operations. Some of the recommendations, including one involving email use, were redacted.
Under a law passed last year, officials who use nonagency emails to conduct business must forward their correspondence to their work emails so that their agencies can preserve the records. If Kennedy didn’t do that, her actions could be illegal, said Nate Jones, director of the Freedom of Information Act Project for the nonprofit National Security Archive.
“[T]his practice is extremely widespread,” he told FedScoop in an email. “The root cause is that the US National Archives is lacking the resources and willpower to enforce the Federal Records Act and ensure that public servants are preserving our documents including emails.”
During a press briefing Tuesday, spokesman John Kirby said officials were required to use official email accounts whenever possible.
“The use of private email is allowed for some government purposes as long as certain rules are followed,” he said, according to the briefing transcript.
When asked whether Kennedy appropriately archived her emails, he would not answer directly.
“There’s no indication that she violated department policy in this regard,” he replied. He added that the embassy was carrying out all of the IG’s recommendations.
Kennedy, the daughter of President John F. Kennedy, took the high-profile diplomatic position in 2013.