Mrs. Clinton’s spokesman and the State Department have cast her decision to hand over her emails as motivated by efforts to update the department’s record management system. “When the department asked former secretaries last year for help ensuring their emails were in fact retained, we immediately said yes,” Nick Merrill, the Clinton spokesman, said on Sunday.
But it was the review of Benghazi-related documents last summer that, within the State Department, set off the chain of events leading to the public disclosure this week of Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email account, according to the current and former department officials.
The decision to ask Mrs. Clinton for her emails went all the way to Secretary of State John Kerry’s chief of staff, who, along with officials working on the response to the Benghazi requests, signed off on it.
Beginning in August, senior State Department officials held negotiations with Mrs. Clinton’s lawyers and advisers to gain access to her personal email records. At one point, her advisers met face-to-face with department officials in Washington.
In October, the State Department sent a letter to Mrs. Clinton and all former secretaries of state back to Madeleine K. Albright, seeking emails and other documents in their possession that related to their government work.
Finally, in December, dozens of boxes filled with 50,000 pages of printed emails from Mrs. Clinton’s personal account were delivered to the State Department. Those documents were then examined by department lawyers, who found roughly 900 pages pertaining to the Benghazi attacks.
Three weeks ago, the State Department handed over the Benghazi emails to the House Select Committee on Benghazi, which is led by Representative Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina.