The company that managed Hillary Rodham Clinton’s private e-mail server said it has “no knowledge of the server being wiped,” the strongest indication to date that tens of thousands of e-mails that Clinton has said were deleted could be recovered.
Clinton and her advisers have said for months that she deleted her personal correspondence from her time as secretary of state, creating the impression that 31,000 e-mails were gone forever.
There is a distinction between e-mails’ being deleted and a server being wiped. If e-mails are deleted or moved from a server, they appear to no longer exist on the device. But experts say, depending on the condition of the server, underlying data can remain on the device, and the e-mails can often be restored.
To make the information go away permanently, a server must be wiped — a process that includes overwriting the underlying data with gibberish, possibly several times.
That process, according to Platte River Networks, the Denver-based firm that has managed the system since 2013, apparently did not happen.
“Platte River has no knowledge of the server being wiped,” company spokesman Andy Boian told The Washington Post. “All the information we have is that the server wasn’t wiped.”
Clinton and her staff have avoided directly answering whether the server was ever wiped.
In a memorable exchange at a campaign event in Las Vegas last month, Clinton turned aside a question about whether the server had been wiped with a joke: “Like what, with a cloth?” she said, adding, “I don’t know how it works digitally at all.”
Campaign spokesman Brian Fallon gave a similar answer this month, telling CNN: “I don’t know what ‘wiped’ means. Literally the e-mails were deleted off of the server, that’s true.”
The server that Clinton used as secretary of state was stored at her home in Chappaqua, N.Y., and was shared with her husband, former president Bill Clinton, and his staff. The device was managed during that time by a State Department staffer who was paid personally by the Clintons for his work on their private system.
All the e-mails from Clinton’s tenure at the State Department were on the server when the device was taken over in June 2013 by Platte River Networks, four months after Clinton left office.
A company attorney has said that all of Clinton’s e-mails were then migrated to a new server.
The e-mails were removed from the second server in 2014, with Clinton’s attorneys storing those they deemed work-related on a thumb drive and discarding those that they determined were entirely personal. Copies of 30,000 work e-mails were turned over to the State Department in December and are being released to the public in batches under the terms of a court order.
The original server remained under Platte River’s control in a secure data center in New Jersey until the company turned it over to the FBI last month. A company attorney has said that the device was “blank” when it was given to investigators but had not specifically said it had been wiped.
The FBI is examining the security of Clinton’s e-mail setup. Officials have said she is not a target. An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment on the status of the inquiry.
A Clinton campaign spokesman declined to comment for this article.
Even if the e-mails could be restored, it’s unclear whether anyone would have the authority to do so.
Conservative groups have already been pressing in court for access to those e-mails, if they exist.
On Saturday, Sens. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairmen of the Judiciary and Homeland Security committees, respectively, said they would push for the deleted e-mails to be reviewed if they can be recovered.
Politically, even the possibility that the e-mails could be retrieved is likely to further inflame an issue that has already hampered the campaign of the Democratic presidential front-runner. Clinton has been trying to move past the issue for months and on Tuesday said she was “sorry” she had not used separate e-mail accounts for public and private matters.
Read more: Washington Post