What did the White House know and when did they know it?
That timeline got murkier on Friday as the White House struggled to respond to mounting questions over Hillary Clinton's private email use. The heat was turned up after Politico reported that top White House officials knew back in August that Clinton was conducting official business on personal email.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest, when asked about what the White House knew, said senior officials were emailing Clinton while she was secretary of state and a few noticed she wasn't using a .gov email address. However, he did not say when they noticed it and whether red flags were raised.
He also said he had no idea when President Obama first found out and claimed he wouldn't be surprised if Obama only learned about it from "newspapers."
Meanwhile, in an interview with Bloomberg News Friday morning, Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said she never received email from Clinton’s private address, and didn’t know whether anyone at the White House, including the president, had either.
“That I do not know,” she said when pressed by the reporters.
As for herself, “I did not receive email from Secretary Clinton,” she said, adding that “the president has a very firm policy that emails should be kept on government systems, he believes in transparency and I know that the State Department is working with the National Archives to make sure that Secretary Hillary Clinton’s emails are captured.”
According to Politico, the White House, State Department and Clinton’s personal office knew in August that the former secretary of state had used a private email to conduct official business. The State Department became aware while the agency was preparing a batch of 15,000 emails requested by House Republicans in the Benghazi investigation.
“State Department officials noticed that some of the 15,000 pages of documents included a personal email address for Clinton, and State and White House officials conferred on how to handle the revelation,” Politico wrote. “But those involved deferred to Clinton’s aides, and they decided not to respond."
While it is not clear who in the White House did the conferring, Jamal Ware, spokesman for the Republican-led Select Committee on Benghazi, confirmed that committee staff first noticed Clinton was included on messages at the address firstname.lastname@example.org when going through the State Department documents in “late summer,” and then on more documents supplied by the agency in February.
However, Ware told The Associated Press on Thursday that it wasn’t until Feb. 28, just days before the scandal broke, that the State Department acknowledged Clinton only used personal email while in office. After that, the committee, chaired by Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., announced it has subpoenaed all of Clinton’s emails relating to Benghazi – including any communications from her personal email and server, as well as texts, attachments and pictures.
The Associated Press earlier this week quoted an anonymous source saying the White House counsel's office was also not aware of Clinton's exclusive use of personal email during her tenure, and only found out as part of the congressional investigation.
Observers say the White House is in the difficult position of defending the former Cabinet secretary and likely Democratic 2016 presidential candidate, while being careful not to get caught up in the mess itself. According to the AP, top White House aides have been “in contact” Clinton's people “to clarify specific facts that the White House is likely to be asked about” and have advised them about what the White House had planned to say.
"It's almost impossible for the White House to give firm answers because there's just too much you don't know," said Ari Fleischer, President George W. Bush's former press secretary. "It's an extraordinarily delicate dance they have to do to not throw someone overboard, but not get anyone in the White House in deeper trouble.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.