What Hillary Clinton is Really Communicating About Her Email
Forensic Statement Analysis by Laurie Ayers
Posted March 2015
Hillary Clinton made a public statement on 10 March 2015 about the use of her personal email account during her time at the State Department. What is in question is whether or not she turned over ALL the emails and whether or not she will allow a third party to go through all the emails and through her own email server that was used for her personal emails. Her verbatim remarks and responses are below, followed by an analysis of deception markers revealed in her words.
“The vast majority of my work email went to government employees at their government addresses – which meant they were captured and preserved, immediately on the system, at the State Department.
The State Department asked former Secretaries of State for our assistance in providing copies of work related emails from our personal accounts. I responded right away and provided all my emails that could possibly be work related, which totaled roughly 55,000 printed pages – even though I knew that the State Department already had a vast majority of them.
We went through a thorough process to identify all of my work-related emails and deliver them to the State Department. At the end I chose not to keep my private, personal emails. Emails about planning Chelsea’s wedding, or my mother’s funeral arrangements, condolence notes to friends, as well as yoga routines, family vacations … the other things you typically find in inboxes.
She switches pronouns from we to I to you. She does not introduce us to who the We is. This can indicate it did not happen or that there is some distance between the person(s) she is referring to as we and herself. Pronouns also give us responsibility. Sometimes people do not want to take responsibility for their actions. Therefore, they will use pronouns such as “we” and “us” to share the blame. Instead of saying, “I went through a thorough process to identify” they may say, “We went through a thorough process to identify.” That way if there are omissions, it’s not all on her.
She did not say, “the other things I or we typically find in in-boxes.” Instead she talked about content that you find in your personal in-boxes. She is right. You and I would find emails of that nature in our in-boxes. The missing “I” means she did not personalize her email content.
She said “I chose not to keep my private, personal emails.” But does not specify if that means she deleted them or if she didn’t keep them for herself and delivered them to the State Department or if they were delivered elsewhere.
No one wants their personal emails made public, and I think most people understand that and respect that privacy.
I took the unprecedented step of asking that the State Department make all my work-related emails public for everyone to see.
I am very proud of the work that I and my colleagues and our public servants at the Department did during my four years as Secretary of State, and I look forward to people being able to see that for themselves.”
People do not want to lie. Thusly, their statements are usually true. We can believe the State Department does have a vast majority of her emails. We can believe she does not want her private emails made public. Still, we only believe what people tell us. If a person does not tell us something, then we cannot believe it to be true. Since Hillary has not denied the allegations or innuendos that she held back certain work related email we cannot believe that did not occur.
Q: Madam Secretary, why did you opt-out of using two devices at the time? Obviously if this did not come out, this probably would not become an issue.
HC: As I said, um I saw it as a matter of convenience, and it was allowed. Others had done it. Umm and according to the State Department which recently Secretary Kerry was the first Secretary of State to rely primarily on a state.gov email account and when I got there I just wanted to use one device for work emails and personal emails instead of two. It was allowed. And as I said, for convenience and it was my practice to communicate with State Department and other government officials on their .gov accounts. So those emails would be automatically saved in the State Department system to meet record keeping requirements and that indeed is ah what happened and I heard ah just a little while ago the State Department announced they would begin to post some of my emails, which I am very glad to hear because I want it all out there.
Verbal hedging (um, ah) this could merely indicate she is uncomfortable. It could also indicate deception if it is not part of her baseline verbal style. During her opening statement she did not hedge once. It’s important to take note of where in the statement these hedges, words or phrases occur.
The word “just” is frequently used to minimize things. When the word “just” is used to minimize a person’s actions or intentions it is an indication more things transpired or were intended than what the person is telling us. Consider the following statement:
“I just wanted to use one device for work emails and personal emails instead of two.”
In deception detection the shortest sentence is the best sentence. The word “just” is not needed in this sentence. However, she may have used this word because she wants us to believe the only reason she used one device was for convenience. She used the word “just” to minimize her intentions. The use of the word “just” indicates she may have used one device for reasons other than not carrying two devices with her. Because at this point we do not have ground truth, we can only speculate; to do otherwise would be irresponsible. Statement Analysis does not involve interpreting – only examining what the writer/speaker states.
Moreover, there are a number words and phrases that indicate a person is being untruthful, especially when they are used apart from their normal baseline. People will sometimes use this deceptive language to reinforce their statement in an attempt to convince you they are telling the truth. Ironically, these words and phrases usually weaken the statement. Just a few of these phrases and words include: “I swear to God”; “To be honest”; “Honestly”; “Really”; and “Indeed.”
Consider the statement from the above response to the question about why she opted out of two devices:
“So those emails would be automatically saved in the State Department system to meet record keeping requirements and that indeed is ah what happened and I heard ah just a little while ago the State Department announced they would begin to post some of my emails…”
Q: Can you explain how you decided which of the personal emails to get rid of – how you got rid of, and when and how you’ll respond to questions about you being the arbiter of what you release?
HC: Let me give you the background. In going through the emails, ahh there were over 60,000 in total sent and received. About half were work-related and went to the State Department umm and about half were personal, that were not in any way related to my work. I had no reason to save them, but that was my decision because the federal guidelines are clear and the State Department request was clear. For any government employee it is that government employee’s responsibility ah to determine what’s personal and what is work- related. I ah am ah very confident of the process that we conducted and ah the emails that (were produced) and ah I feel like once the American public begins to see the emails ah they will have unprecedented insight into ah a high government official’s daily communications which I think will ah be quite interesting.
This response is rich in deception markers. I will break it down.
In going through the emails, [Omission of pronoun. See above on pronoun changing or omitting. Who went through them?]ahh [verbal hedging] there were over 60,000 in total sent and received.
For any government employee it is that government employee’s responsibility ah to determine what’s personal and what is work- related. I ah am ah very confident of the process that we conducted and ah
Notice verbal hedging, inconsistent use of pronouns and her deflection on any government employee and that employee’s responsibility. Andrea Mitchell (the reporter) asked her to explain how she decided which emails to get rid of. Instead, she responded about any government employee’s responsibility.
I ah am ah very confident of the process that we conducted and ah the emails that (were produced) and ah I feel like…
She uses more of the same verbal hedging, inconsistent use of pronouns and passive voice. The phrase emails that were produced is stated using a passive voice. Emails do not send themselves. Passive voice is used to avoid responsibility for actions taken. There are some things that do not happen by themselves such as emails sending or a gun firing. When a subject uses passive language she is concealing the identities of those involved. While it may be a truthful statement that some emails were produced, she has not told us who produced them. Most would say I produced them, or my counsel submitted them or someone turned over some emails.
Further, she never addresses how she decided which emails to delete and she completely ignored the question about her being the arbiter of what she chose to release.
Q: I was wondering if you think you made a mistake in either exclusively using your private email or in the response to the controversy around it – and if so, what have you learned from that?
HC: Well, I.. I.. have to tell you that um as I said in my remarks, ah looking back I ah it would have been probably ah you know smarter to have used two devices but I have ah absolute confidence that everything that could in ANY way ah be connected to work is now in the possession of the ah State Department. And I have to add, even if I had two devices which ah is obviously permitted, many people do that, you would still have to have to put the responsibility where it belongs, which is on the official, so um I did it for convenience and I ah now looking back ah think that it might have been smarter ah to have those two devices from the very beginning.
Well I..I..have to tell you that um We do not know what she had to tell us because she never finished that thought but went back to ‘as I said’. Additionally ‘I have to tell you’ is also along the lines of untruthful phrases such as ‘to tell you the truth.’
ah it would have been (probably) ah ya know smarter to have used two … She’s not certain (probably) that it would have been smarter yet she has absolute confidence that the State Department now has everything in any way connected to her work emails. Omission of personal pronoun “I” when she says ‘it’ would have been smarter. She also stumbles at this point with ‘you know smarter to have’ No we don’t know – we only know what she tell us.
Even if I had two devices which ah is obviously permitted. This is language often seen in criminal confessions. They inadvertently tell us they did it by using the phrase “ if I did [do the action] I would have… “. She says even if I had two devices, although the controversy is over two email accounts, not over having two email devices.
Q: Did you or any of your aides delete any government emails from your personal account, and what lengths are you willing to go to, to prove that you didn’t? Some people, including supporters of yours, have suggested having an independent arbiter look at your server, for instance.
HC: We did not. [Did not what? Did not delete government email? We cannot assume this is what she means because she did not tell us that.] In fact [untruthful phrase] my direction to ah, ah conduct the thorough investigation was to err on the side of providing anything that ah could be possibly viewed as ah work related. That doesn’t mean they will be by the State Department, once the State Department goes through them, but ah out of an abundance of caution and care, you know [no we don’t know – we only know what she tells us] we [pronoun switch, again who is ’we’?] wanted to ah, ah send that message, ah unequivocally. That is the ah responsibility of the individual and I have fulfilled that responsibility ah and I have ah no doubt we have done exactly what we should have done.
Remember in deception detection the shortest sentence is the best sentence. I have ah no doubt we have done exactly what we should have done could be shortened to ‘I have done what we should have done’. By adding no doubt and exactly, she is using untruthful words and phrases such as to “tell you the truth, really, frankly.” Also note the use of the phrase should have done, instead of what we were required to do.
Um when the search was conducted [passive voice. Who conducted the search?] ah we were asking that any email be identified and preserved that could potentially be federal records. And that’s exactly what we did. And we went, as I said, beyond that, and as I said, the process produced over 30,000 ah you know work emails and I think [she isn’t certain] that ah, ah we have more than met the request from the State Department. Ah the server contains things, personal communications, from my husband and me and I believe [she isn’t certain, yet earlier she stated she had absolute confidence] I have met all of my responsibilities and the server ah will remain ah private and I think [she isn’t certain] that the State Department will be over time able to release all of that records that were ah provided.
She is extremely uncomfortable answering this question about deleting emails – stumbling on her words. Why? Again she completely ignores the question about the independent arbiter.
An interesting note about her statement of “over 30,000 ah you know work emails”: The number three (3) is considered a deception number. There are numerous examples, even back as far as fictional fairy tales: Three Little Pigs, Three Blind Mice, Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Any time the number three is used in time, in numbers, in any sequence, pay attention. It generally means it is either made up or the person simply doesn’t know how many, so the default is to pick something with a number three. What if using the number three genuinely is an honest answer? You will know it is truthful if that appears to be the only deception marker. If everything else lines up then you can trust the three in that particular instance. However if there are multiple signs of deception, it is a strong likelihood the three is also not accurate.
Q: Madam Secretary, you mentioned the server. That’s one of the distinctions here, this wasn’t Gmail or Yahoo or something. This was server that you owned. Is that appropriate? Is it ah, was there any precedent for it? Did you clear it with any State Department security officials? And do they, did they have full access to it when you were Secretary?
HC: Well the system we used was set up for um for President Clinton’s office and it had numerous safeguards. Ah it was on property guarded by the Secret Service and there were no security breaches. And so ah I think [she isn’t certain] that the ah ah the use of that server ah which started ah with my husband certainly proved to be ah effective and secure.
She did not answer if it was appropriate; did not answer if there was precedent; did not respond if she cleared with the State Department; and did not answer if they had full access to it when she was Secretary.
Q: Madam Secretary, how can the public be assured that when you deleted emails that were personal in nature that you didn’t also delete emails that were professional but possibly unflattering, and what do you think about this Republican idea of having an independent third party to come in and examine your emails?
HC: Well first of all you have to ask that question to every single federal employee because the way the system works, the federal employee, the individual, whether they have one device, two devices, three devices, how many addresses, they make the decision.
The reporter asked her how the public could be assured that when she deleted the emails she didn’t delete emails that were professional. She did not answer how the public could be assured. She did not deny that she deleted any unflattering emails. We cannot believe that she did not delete professional emails if she doesn’t tell us she didn’t.
So even if you have a work related device, with a work related .gov account you choose what goes on that. That is the way our system works. And so we trust and count on the judgment of thousands, maybe millions of people to make those ah decisions.
She still has not addressed how the public can be assured, nor has not denied she didn’t delete unflattering professional emails.
And I feel that I did that and even more – that I went above and beyond ah what I was requested to do and again those will be out in the public domain and people will be able to judge for themselves.
I feel that I did that is not the same as saying I did that. She also did not address the question of having an independent third party examine her emails.
Q: Madam Secretary, State Department rules at the time you were Secretary were perfectly clear that if a State Department employee was going to be using private email, that employee needed to turn those emails over to the State Department to be preserved on government computers. Why did you not do that? Why did you not go along with State Department rules until nearly two years after you left office? And also the President of the United States said that he was unaware that you had this unusual email arrangement. The White House counsel’s office says that you never approved this arrangement through them. Why did you not do that? Why did you, apparently caught the White House by surprise?
HC: Let me try to unpack your multiple questions. First, the laws and regulations in effect when I was Secretary of State allowed me to use my email for work. That is undisputed.
The reporter asked about turning over emails. She responded by stating the laws allowed her to use her email.
Secondly, under the Federal Records Act, records are defined as recorded information regardless of its form or characteristics. And in meeting the record keeping obligation, it was my practice to email government officials on their State or other .gov accounts so that the emails were immediately captured and preserved. [Not relevant to the question asked]
Now there are different rules governing the White House than there are rules governing the rest of the Executive branch and in order to address the requirements I was under um I did exactly as I have said. I emailed to people, and I not only knew, I expected, that to be captured in the State Department, or any other government agency that I was emailing to at a .gov account. Um what happened in ah, sorry I guess late summer, early, early fall is that the State Department sent a letter to former Secretaries of State, not just to me, asking for some assistance in providing any work related emails that might be on the personal email. [Still not addressing the question]
And what I did was to direct, you know my counsel to conduct a thorough investigation and to err on the side of providing anything that could be connected to ah work. They did that. And that was ah my obligation and I fully fulfilled it and then I took the unprecedented step of saying “Go ahead and release them and let people see them.”
Does not address any questions about the White House not knowing or approving her arrangement.
Q: Why did you wait two months to turn those emails over? The rules say you have to turn them over.
HC: I.. I.. I don’t think [she isn’t certain about something but stopped from telling us what] … I’d be happy to have someone talk to you about the rules. I fully complied by every rule that I was governed by. No mention of the two month gap.
Q: Were you ever specifically briefed on the security implications of using your own email server and using your personal addressed email with the President?
HC: I did not email any ah classified material to anyone on my email. There is no classified material so I am certainly well aware ah of the ah classification ah requirements and ah did not ah send classified material.
She was asked if she was specifically briefed and she responded that she did not email any classified material.
Q: Why did you delete emails?
HC: Because they were um personal and private about matters that ah I believed were in the scope of my personal privacy and that particularly of other people. They had nothing to do with work but ah um I ..I didn’t see any reason to keep them.
The use of the word but here is very telling. A conjunction (such as and, or, or but) joins together words, phrases, or clauses of equal importance. Often, the use of but can make the two parts of the sentence very unequal. In many instances, “but” negates, excludes, discounts, or cancels that which precedes it. By saying but ah um I ..I didn’t see any reason to keep them it is negating her comment that she deleted them because they had nothing to do with work.
This was the last question she entertained before she left the podium.
To watch the entire press conference, see it here.
Statement Analysis is also called Statement Validity or Content Analysis. This process involves analyzing how questions are answered, choice of words used, pronoun usage and other content clues to deceit. To learn more about statement analysis or my services visit www.LaurieAyers.com
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C. D. DeLoatch says
Ms. AyersI have really enjoyed your analysis of the H.Clinton interview regarding her use of a private e-mail and her response to the request for the release of governmental work-related communications. Even before becoming a speech language pathologist, the analysis of language, especially pragmatics (as you know, the social area of language), has always been of special interest. I also like the law and anthropology, regarding why people say what they say (and do what they do); From the day a professor talked to our class about ‘saving face’ during interactions, the spark was ignighted.
Thanks again for your through analysis and also explaining that one deceptive marker is not enough and that looking at the baseline or typical style of communication is essential.
(As an aside, I have done many fluency & language sample analysis & fettering out how interjections are being used, whether they are part of a fluency disorder like stuttering, part of a more rare language disorder called cluttering, being used to gain think time for people who have memory problems or word retrieval difficulties, auditory processing disorder or being deceptive – so the details about where those interjections appear within the dialog, were also fascinating).
From one pro to another, Kudos!
Many thanks for stopping by, C.D. Isn’t language fascinating? There are so many tells in what and in how people communicate. Verbal hedging can be the result of a number of things too, as you well know.
Here’s to continued awareness!