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Emails between Hillary Clinton and Obama to be kept secret, White House says

Hillary Clinton holds African American campaign rally in Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during a rally in Atlanta on Friday.

(Erik S. Lesser / European Pressphoto Agency)

Emails exchanged between Hillary Rodham Clinton and President Obama while she was serving as his secretary of State may remain secret until long after he leaves the White House.

Obama administration officials say they will not publicly release the exchanges, citing legal precedent that allows presidents to keep such communications confidential. The White House’s intentions were first reported Friday by the New York Times.

Fewer than two dozen emails passed between Clinton and Obama, and they were largely non-substantive, a person with knowledge of the exchanges said.

But White House officials say they fear a release of the emails would undermine a long-standing tradition of presidents being able to receive uninhibited advice from their advisors. Other presidents, they note, also have kept such communications confidential until years after leaving office.

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The White House acknowledgment came as the State Department released another 7,000 pages Friday of messages that Clinton sent or received while serving as the nation’s top diplomat. The disclosure was part of the continuing saga over Clinton’s government email, which she routed through a private server. The administration has been under a court order to release the tens of thousands of messages publicly, in monthly batches. With the latest set, just over half have been disclosed.

It is unclear whether Clinton and Obama emailed each other during the time span of the other Clinton emails the State Department has made public.

So far, the disclosed emails have not proven particularly revealing. Republicans on the House Select Committee on Benghazi who hoped the messages would help break new ground in their investigation of how Clinton handled the 2012 attacks in that Libyan city have found no new smoking guns. But Obama’s move to keep his exchanges with Clinton secret may yet give them new fodder.

The White House had previously acknowledged Clinton and Obama exchanged messages on occasion, a revelation that called into question Obama’s assertion that he was unaware Clinton had used a private email server.

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White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in March that Obama was aware of Clinton’s unorthodox email address, “but he was not aware of the details of how that email address and that server had been set up or how Secretary Clinton and her team were planning to comply with the Federal Records Act.… The kinds of things that a president and his secretary of State talk about are pretty weighty national issues. I’m not sure that they drilled all the way down to the Federal Records Act.”

A senior administration official noted Friday that messages Clinton exchanged with others at the White House have already been disclosed.

“We presume those communications will ultimately be made public, along with the rest of the president’s records, after he leaves office,” said the official, who would not be named discussing Obama’s private records.

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