Keeping Up With the State Department Spox’s Explainer on the Clinton Separation Statement

Posted: 12:42 am EDT
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The hunt for Secretary Clinton’s OF-109 Separation Statement was all over the news last week, although it seemed, oh, so much longer.  Fox News was searching for it. The Daily Caller found a whistleblower who alleged double standard.  Media Matters  called out the conservative media’s own double standard. Add the official spokesperson of the State Department and we got a free roller coaster ride plus coupons.

It looks like 12 FAM 564.4 is the relevant regulation um, excuse me, “recommendation” in the Foreign Affairs Manual. Waiting for the spox to clarify that although the briefing is mandatory, signing the separation statement is really optional and voluntary!

12 FAM 564.4 Termination
(TL:DS-88; 02-13-2003) (Uniform State, AID, OPIC, TDP)
a. A security debriefing will be conducted and a separation statement will be completed whenever an employee is terminating employment or is otherwise to be separated for a continuous period of 60 days or more. The debriefing is mandatory to ensure that separating personnel are aware of the requirement to return all classified material and of a continuing responsibility to safeguard their knowledge of any classified information. The separating employee must be advised of the applicable laws on the protection and disclosure of classified information (see 12 FAM 557 Exhibit 557.3) before signing Form OF-109, Separation Statement (see 12 FAM 564 Exhibit 564.4).


Via DPB, March 17, 2015 with State Department Spokesperson Jennifer Psaki:

QUESTION: So when you say – it is my understanding that all employees – and I think you even alluded to this when it first came up, that all employees were required to sign this document on completion of their government service. Is that not the case?

MS. PSAKI: Required is not the accurate term. It’s – we’re looking into how standard this is across the federal government and certainly at the State Department. But there’s no – we’re not aware of any penalty for not signing it.

QUESTION: Well, at the State Department, though, is it – it is common practice, though, is it not, for employees, at least employees below the rank of Secretary of State to sign such a thing – to sign such a document when they leave? Is it not?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I just don’t want to characterize how common practice it is. Certainly, I understand there’s been a focus on this form. We’ve answered the question on whether or not Secretary Clinton signed the form, and we’ll see if there’s more statistics we can provide about how common it is.

QUESTION: It’s your understanding, though, that not completing this form is not a violation of any rule or regulation?

MS. PSAKI: It’s not a violation of any rule, no.

QUESTION: And when you said that you have found no record of her two immediate – was it her two immediate predecessors?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.



QUESTION: All right. And can you explain, though, what you mean by saying that you’re looking into how – into whether or not signing or completing such a form before one leaves – inside the State Department – I’m not interested in other agencies, but just inside the State Department, was it – is it your understanding that some people did and some people didn’t, but no one was required to or just the secretaries?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are differences between regulations and certainly recommendations, and I’m just getting at there’s a difference between also secretaries of state or former secretaries and staff at lower levels. I just don’t want to speak to how common practice it is, and that’s something if we can give more information on, we certainly will.

QUESTION: Okay. You just used the word “recommended.” Is that the operative language here, that it is recommended but not required?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the form exists, certainly, Matt. I can speak to whether this former secretary, whether we have record of her signing it. Beyond that —

QUESTION: No, I understand.

MS. PSAKI: — I don’t have more statistics on whether – what percentage of State Department employees sign on departure from the building.

QUESTION: Okay. Right, but yes, the form exists, and it exists for a reason. It doesn’t exist simply because someone thought, hey, let’s have a form that someone has to sign. It exists for a reason and probably a pretty good reason, right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are probably hundreds of forms in the federal government that exist —

QUESTION: Thousands I would suggest.

MS. PSAKI: Thousands, tens of thousands of forms that exist. So I don’t know that I would overemphasize the existence of a form, but —

QUESTION: All right. Okay. So does this mean now that you have gotten Freedom of Information Act requests – I believe you got them this morning from the RNC and from various other people, asking for these forms signed not just by former Secretary Clinton but also some of her top aides. Have you satisfied yourself, has the building satisfied itself that it cannot respond to these FOIA requests because —

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t —

QUESTION: — these documents don’t exist?

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t talked to our lawyers about that specific question nor have I looked at their specific requests.

QUESTION: All right. And do you know if the FOIA, at least from the RNC, includes Secretary Clinton’s chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, or deputy chief of staff Huma Abedin and Deputy Assistant Secretary Philippe Reines —

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have additional details on other individuals who may or may not have signed the form.

QUESTION: All right. So is this – as far as you’re concerned, is this now case closed?

MS. PSAKI: I hope so. There’s quite a bit going on in the world, so —

QUESTION: Yes, all right.

MS. PSAKI: — we can also discuss that.


QUESTION: Is there someone – is there a State Department employee that’s in charge of making sure that high-level officials sign that before they leave?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, as you know, or you may not know, there are rotations of staff, including the Secretary’s staff, Foreign Service staff who rotate every couple of years. So I really can’t speak to what document may or may not have been presented more than two years ago.



During the March 18 Daily Press Briefing, Ms. Psaki returned to this subject on why the secretary of state is not required to sign the separation statement.

PSAKI: Well, we’ve looked into, as I mentioned, recent secretaries.  I’m not sure we’re going to be delving that much farther.  But I can give you a little bit more information on the context here.  Secretary —

QUESTION:  This would – sorry, this would be why it was not required or mandatory for secretaries of state to —

PSAKI: Yes, correct.  Secretaries of State often do not sign this form, as it is a step to revoking their own security clearance.  There’s a long tradition of secretaries of state making themselves available to future secretaries and presidents, and secretaries are typically allowed to maintain their security clearance and access to their own records for use in writing their memoirs and the like.  Hence, this is not a form that many would have signed.

QUESTION:  Well, how long does that last for?  Like, does former Secretary Kissinger still have his security clearance from 1970 —

PSAKI: You’d have to check with former Secretary Kissinger, though the Secretary of State currently does enjoy speaking with him about a range of issues.

Wait — what?

The National Review is reporting that former Secretary James Baker’s policy assistant, John Williams reportedly said that Baker signed OF-109 on August 24, 1992, the day he left the State Department to serve as White House chief of staff to George H. W. Bush.

And then this: