By Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers said Thursday they will seek to recover the missing emails of Colin Powell from his time as U.S. secretary of state by going directly to AOL Inc, whose email service he used for his work.
The decision came a few minutes after U.S. State Department officials testified in a hearing that the department never contacted AOL to recover the missing records, despite repeated requests by the National Archives and Records Administration over the last year.
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The hearing, by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, was the latest in the fallout from Hillary Clinton's decision to use an unauthorized private email system for official email while secretary of state.
Clinton, the Democratic Party presidential candidate, has said her decision was wrong, but it has continued to dog her effort to defeat Republican rival Donald Trump in the Nov. 8 election. Her defenders have pointed to some similarities in Powell's earlier use of private email, which drew fresh scrutiny at Thursday's hearing.
"I don't get this, it's ridiculous," said Democrat Stephen Lynch, a committee member. "This is the National Archives asking you to contact AOL, but you didn't do that."
Patrick Kennedy, the State Department's most senior management official, said that Powell, a Republican, never replied to the department's request to ask AOL to attempt to recover his work emails, which were not properly archived at the agency. He said the department's lawyers decided to decline the National Archives' requests that the department go to AOL directly.
"We cannot make a request for someone else's records from their provider," Kennedy said in his testimony. "That request has to be made by them."
Jason Chaffetz, the Republican who chairs the committee, then agreed to a request by the committee's most senior Democrat, Elijah Cummings, to try to recover the emails from AOL, using a subpoena if necessary. AOL is owned by telecommunications provider Verizon Communications Inc.
The State Department did not have a fully functioning email system when Powell joined it in 2001, according to agency officials. Powell has said he told technology officials to set up a computer with his AOL account in order to become the first secretary of state to use email.
In contrast, Clinton eschewed the official state.gov email system when she took office in 2009. Department officials have said she would not have received permission for this had she asked.
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Steve Orlofsky)