White House Aims to Stop Release of Obama-Clinton Emails

The Obama White House will try to block the release of emails between President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, calming longstanding precedent invoked by presidents of both parties to keep presidential communications confidential, officials said.

The State Department discovered the emails between Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton as part of its effort to release the former secretary’s emails, several thousand more of which were made public. A review of those emails showed Mrs. Clinton engaged in conversations with various aides about security in Libya, discussing talking points after the 2012 attack on the American compound in Benghazi, Libya.

Mr. Obama’s direct correspondence with Mrs. Clinton was forwarded by the State Department to the White House, which has refused to allow them to be released, a move likely to intensify the struggle between Mrs. Clinton and congressional Republicans, who have pressed for disclosure of her emails as part of an investigation into the administration’s handling of the Benghazi events.

The contents of the emails between Mrs. Clinton, who is running for president, and Mr. Obama have not been disclosed. The White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, acknowledged in March that the two “did have the occasion to email one another” when Mrs. Clinton was secretary of state.

Mr. Obama first told CBS News in March that he learned about Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email server “the same time everybody else learned it, through news reports.” Mr. Earnest later admitted that the president was aware that Clinton sometimes used a private email address but did not know the details about how the server was set up.

White House officials said that their refusal to release the emails between the two officials is not based on their content, but rather is intended to defend the principle that presidents must be free to receive advice from their top aides without fear that the conversations will be made public.

White House officials said they were not asserting executive privilege, a specific legal authority that Mr. Obama has used only once, in the case of congressional inquiries into the “Fast and Furious” gunrunning operation, in which weapons ended up in the possession of Mexican gun cartels. Presidents often seek to avoid formally invoking executive privilege, which carries political overtones dating to President Richard M. Nixon’s assertion of the authority to block congressional investigations of the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s.

Mr. Obama has repeatedly resisted efforts by Congress to turn over the president’s private communications. The emails released show Mrs. Clinton received at least some indication that J. Christopher Stevens, the United States ambassador to Libya, was concerned about security in Benghazi more than a year before he was killed in the attack there.

The emails also highlighted how much advice Mrs. Clinton received from Sidney Blumenthal, a family friend who had been barred by the White House from working at the State Department. In one, Mr. Blumenthal suggests that Seymour Hersh, an investigative journalist, had discovered that Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the leader of Libya, was in Chad.

 

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