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Pentagon chief Ashton Carter on private email use: 'Should have known better'

"It's not like I didn't have the opportunity to understand what the right thing to do is. I didn't do the right thing," Carter said Thursday.

By Amy R. Connolly and Doug G. Ware

ARLINGTON, Va., Dec. 17 (UPI) -- U.S. Department of Defense chief Ashton B. Carter on Thursday admitted that he used a personal email account to handle official government business during the first few weeks of his administration -- a mistake that appears headed for a Senate review.

Carter said he used an email program installed on his iPhone to handle "administrative work" briefly in the first few weeks of his tenure, which began in February -- a violation of Defense Department rules.

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"That I shouldn't have been doing," Carter said Thursday. "Particularly someone in my position, and with the sensitivities about this issue, should have known better."

The New York Times first reported that Carter sent 72 work-related emails from his personal account in April to his former chief of staff Eric Fanning, as well as other top aides.

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It was not initially clear, though, how many total government-related emails were sent and received from the personal account.

Later Thursday, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain said his panel will review Carter's actions, which he found "hard to believe."

"With all the public attention surrounding the improper use of personal email by other Administration officials, it is hard to believe that Secretary Carter would exercise the same error in judgment," McCain said. "The Senate Armed Services Committee has requested copies of the emails and will be conducting a review to ensure that sensitive information was not compromised."

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The Defense chief reportedly continued the practice for at least two months, even after it was publicly revealed that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did the same thing during part of her administration, the Times report said. Clinton's use of a private email server has attracted great controversy and criticism during her campaign for the presidency.

While traveling in Iraq Thursday, Carter told reporters the ordeal was "entirely my mistake, entirely on me."

"It's not like I didn't have the opportunity to understand what the right thing to do is," he said. "I didn't do the right thing."

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Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook also called it a mistake, but emphasized the practice has stopped. He noted that Carter's personal account was rarely used for government business. because the Defense chief generally prefers phone calls or personal contact to email.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Carter's actions do not appear to have involved classified materials.

"He indicated that he didn't frequently use personal email for government work," Earnest said. "He says that those emails did not jeopardize the proper protection of classified information. It clearly is a mistake because it runs counter to our policy."

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