Journalist Joe Conason is writing a book about Bill Clinton’s post-presidential years. The New York Times calls Conason “a longtime defender of the Clintons.” While researching for his book, he contacts Powell spokesperson Margaret Cifrino about an alleged dinner party incident. Due to a leak by hackers in September 2016 of all of Powell’s emails from 2014 to late August 2016, the entire correspondence will be made public.
Conason initializes contact with an email to Cifrino on June 17, 2016: “My inquiry chiefly concerns a dinner party he [Powell] attended for then-Senator Clinton in January 2009, which was hosted by former Secretary Madeleine Albright and attended by several former secretaries of state.”
After some back and forth, Conason replies with his questions:
- Did [Powell] attend that dinner, along with former secretaries Kissinger, Christopher, Albright, and Rice?
- Does he recall Secretary Albright asking all of them to give Secretary-designate Clinton one piece of advice from their own time at the State Department?
- Did he advise Mrs. Clinton to use her own email account rather than a State Department account, as he did?”
Cifrino passes on Powell’s reply to Conason:
“Our records show that the dinner was in June, not January. He doesn’t recall Items 2 or 3. He also publicly and widely used his personal email account, but he also had a State Department computer on his desk for classified communications. He does recall sharing with Secretary Clinton his use of his email account and how useful it was and trans-formative for the Department. He knew nothing then or until recently about her private home servers and a personal domain, nor, therefore, could he have advised her on that or suggested it. By June her system may have already been set up.”
On August 18, 2016, the New York Times publishes an article mainly based on Conason’s depiction of the Albright party. Conason claims that Albright asked all of the former secretaries of state at the party to provide one piece of advice to Clinton, and “Powell suggested that she use her own email.” Conason will also include this claim in his book published not long after that.
However, in Powell’s response in the email exchange mentioned above, Powell clearly said he doesn’t recall Albright even asking that question, but did remember the email he exchanged with Clinton on January 23, 2009. Conason appears to be confusing the email with the dinner party. (New York Times, 08/18/16)
Then Conason writes an article for Newsweek on August 22, 2016 accusing Powell of giving “a very different answer” several months earlier. He quotes from the email exchange he had with Cifrino: “[Powell] does recall sharing with Secretary Clinton his use of his email account and how useful it was and trans-formative for the Department. He knew nothing then or until recently about her private home server and a personal domain, nor, therefore, could he have advised her on that or suggested it. By June I would assume her email system was already set up.”
Conason then comments in Newsweek: “So it is perplexing for him to say he doesn’t remember that dinner conversation at all now, since, according to his own assistant, he remembered at least some of what he said as recently as two months ago.”
Note Conason doesn’t quote Powell’s response to the question about the party, and instead gives Powell’s answer about the January 2009 email exchange with Clinton. (Newsweek, 08/16/16)
Additionally, the email leak will also include an exchange between Powell and Rice on August 28, 2016. Powell writes, “I was [with] Maddy [Madeline Albright] the other evening and she doesn’t remember an email conversation or even asking us a question recently.”
Rice writes back, ” Yes — I’m sure it never came up.”
Thus, not only does Conason misquote Powell, but the alleged Albright question at her party may never have happened at all.