from the and-not-even-HE-can-force-it-to-work-faster dept
A federal judge has expressed his displeasure at the State Department's ongoing foot-dragging over the release of Hillary Clinton's emails.
US District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras told lawyers in a Washington, DC courtroom that "the government put me between a rock and a hard place" by failing to meet the deadline and asking for more time. Contreras didn't want the emails released without being properly vetted for sensitive information — State says it needs more time for the vetting process — but postponing the release was also to the detriment of the American public.Contreras undersells the public interest -- which has been high ever since it was discovered Clinton had been conducting official (and sensitive) business using a private email server. Now that Clinton is a presidential candidate, the release of the emails could adversely affect her campaign.
"To state the obvious, these documents have a lot of public interest, and the timing is important," Contreras said.
I don't believe the State Department has a personal stake in Clinton's potential presidency, but it's operating in a way that would encourage people to come to that conclusion. Instead, this is likely business as usual for the agency.
For one, government agencies protect their own. Clinton's use of a private server makes the State Department look bad because no one with the power to do so ever made an effort to shut her down. Released emails show Clinton dealt with classified material, something that should never have been routed to a private email account. The State Department's lackadaisical handling of this matter would only be highlighted further by additional releases.
That's one aspect of it. The other is that the State Department is just generally terrible at handling FOIA responses. The agency's Inspector General released a report in January that showed the agency was more than just merely inept. Its FOIA response system is almost completely broken.
The report from State Department Inspector General Steve Linick points to a series of failures in the procedures the office of the secretary used to respond to public records requests, including a lack of written policies and training, as well as inconsistent oversight by senior personnel. The report also faulted the secretary’s office for a practice of not searching for emails responsive to FOIA requests unless the request specifically asked for emails or demanded “all records” on a topic.The outcome, however, is indiscernible from an active effort to shore up a candidate's presidential race. Judge Contreras is aware of this. He's attempting to set another hard deadline for the release of still-withheld emails, but there's only so much he can do when the State Department has casually rolled past other deadlines it's been given.
“These procedural weaknesses, coupled with the lack of oversight by leadership and failure to routinely search emails, appear to contribute to inaccurate and incomplete responses,” the report says.
The report also points to extreme delays in other cases, such as an Associated Press request for Clinton’s schedules that was pending without substantive response for five years.
"Explain to me again why something that's gone through the legal reviews could not be posted until a week from Thursday," Contreras responded. "This seems like an unreasonably long period of time to post, or give access to, something that has already passed clearance."As it stands now -- even without malice aforethought by the State Department -- four states will have concluded their primaries before the agency has to produce the documents.
The judge ordered State to provide "a very specific description" the following day of why the cleared files couldn't be released sooner. He also told State to consider alternative methods of disclosing the emails that might give VICE News access to them sooner, such as allowing the pages to be viewed on a screen without actually delivering them.