WASHINGTON – A senior U.S. diplomat deleted an untold number of work emails, apparently unaware that even routine messages received and sent by a top government official should be saved, according to a Senate investigation released Tuesday.
When Michael Ratney served as the top diplomat in Jerusalem, he found emails with attachments to be a nuisance, the report from the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations said. So, at times, he simply got rid of them to keep his inbox from breaching the storage limits. Ratney, now the U.S. Special Envoy for Syria, didn't know he was required to keep the messages, the report said.
The Federal Records Act requires the preservation of government records.
The disclosure of Ratney's electronic housekeeping comes as Republican outrage mounts over Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server for government business during her tenure as secretary of state. The Justice Department announced last week Clinton would not be prosecuted over her handling of classified information, triggering waves of criticism from GOP lawmakers.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Tuesday defended her decision to close the Clinton email investigation without criminal charges, telling the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday that she accepted the unanimous recommendation of career FBI investigators and attorneys.
The Senate investigations subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said it uncovered Ratney's "retention problem" while examining how State Department grants to aid peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine also helped create a campaign to oppose Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's election in 2015.
The report found no wrongdoing by the State Department and said the grassroots group that received the nearly $350,000 in grants, OneVoice, complied with the terms of its grants. But after the grant period ended, "the group deployed the campaign infrastructure and resources created, in part, using U.S. grant funds to support a political campaign to defeat the incumbent Israeli government," the report said.
Portman chided the State Department for ignoring "warning signs" and underwriting "a politically active group in a politically sensitive environment with inadequate safeguards."
Ratney was consul general in Jerusalem from 2012 to 2015 during the award and oversight of the grants to OneVoice.
The report said the State Department "was unable to produce all documents responsive to the subcommittee's requests due to its failure to retain complete email records" for Ratney.
Portman's spokesman, Kevin Smith, said the subcommittee became aware during its investigation of at least five separate emails that were provided by OneVoice but not State.
The subcommittee has no way of knowing precisely how many additional emails Ratney could have been deleted, Smith said.