President Barack Obama knew that Hillary Rodham Clinton conducted business on a nongovernment email account while secretary of state, but only recently learned the details of the privately run system she was operating, the White House said Monday.
The White House has drawn scrutiny over Clinton's exclusive use of private email and whether Obama or his aides should have done more to ensure her correspondence was secure and properly preserved. In a weekend interview, Obama told CBS News that it was only recently "through news reports" that he'd learned that Clinton was using a nongovernment email system.
But White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday that Obama had personally exchanged emails with Clinton on her private account - email@example.com - and was therefore familiar with the address. Earnest said Obama had been referring to when he learned the specifics of Clinton's email system - such as the fact that she had a privately run email server and was using the private account exclusively.
"The president - as I think many people expected - did over the course of his first several years in office trade emails with the secretary of state," Earnest said, adding that the number of emails they exchanged was not large. But it wasn't until recently that Obama learned how Clinton and her team planned to ensure the emails were properly maintained to comply with the Federal Records Act.
The controversy is problematic for Clinton, who is building a campaign team and is the leading Democratic presidential contender if she enters the 2016 campaign. On the Republican side, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is receiving the most attention.
Any emails between Obama and Clinton would have been preserved by the White House under the Presidential Records Act, Earnest said.
Still, the disclosure that Obama knew about the private address comes as Clinton's critics seek to saddle Obama's White House with the controversy over her emails. Facing endless questions from the press about the emails, the White House has sought to defend its own technology and transparency practices without inserting itself into Clinton's likely presidential campaign.
The Republican National Committee accused Obama of misleading the American public in the CBS interview, claiming that the White House "can't get its story straight" about how Clinton jeopardised the security of her communications with the commander in chief.