Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration want the Clinton email scandal to go away. The liberal media may comply, but Judicial Watch is independent and is increasing its pressure with new court action.
On March 2, 2015, The New York Times reported then-Secretary Clinton used at least one non-“state.gov” email account to conduct official government business during her entire tenure as the secretary of state. It also was reported that Clinton stored these records on a non-U.S. government server at her home in Chappaqua, NY.
At least 18 lawsuits, 10 of which are active in federal court, and approximately 160 Judicial Watch Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests could be affected by Mrs. Clinton’s and her staff’s use of secret email accounts to conduct official government business.
New developments have arisen since the story broke. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is finally asking some hard questions of the U.S. State Department. First, Politico reported on a letter sent to the State Department by Paul Wester, the chief records officer for the U.S. government:
“NARA is concerned that Federal records may have been alienated from the Department of State’s official recordkeeping systems,” Wester wrote to Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Margaret Grafeld. “If federal records have been alienated, please describe all measures the Department has taken, or expects to take, to retrieve the alienated records. Please also include a description of all safeguards established to prevent records alienation incidents from happening in the future.”
One can fairly translate “alienated” as “stolen” in this context. Wester is giving State a month to respond to his letter, which was sent the day after The New York Times first broke the scandal.
In December, Clinton supposedly turned over about 30,000 emails (totaling 55,000 pages) to State Department officials. But earlier this month, Clinton also admitted that she “chose not to keep her private, personal emails that were not federal records,” which means that of the nearly 60,000 emails Clinton sent or received through her private server, approximately 32,000 other messages may have been withheld or deleted.
As Congress hopes someone in the Obama administration will do its job and enforce the law, Judicial Watch is getting to work. Since March 2, the organization has filed a new FOIA lawsuit, 18 new FOIA requests about the scandal, and a motion in federal court to reopen a lawsuit because of “fraud, misrepresentation, and misconduct,” including misconduct by Clinton.
Recently, Judicial Watch opened a new front in federal court, asking another federal court to schedule a status conference with the State Department to discuss the production of records relevant to an ongoing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit about Hillary Clinton’s involvement in the Benghazi scandal. Judicial Watch’s legal team is asking the court to set a “status conference in this matter as soon as possible to avoid further undue delays, prejudice and potential spoliation.” The request for a status conference was made to U.S. District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth.
The timing here is key. A production of documents is due as required in the July 2014 FOIA lawsuit Judicial Watch filed against the U.S. State Department seeking:
Copies of any updates and/or talking points given to Ambassador Rice by the White House or any federal agency concerning, regarding, or related to the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Any and all records or communications concerning, regarding, or relating to talking points or updates on the Benghazi attack given to Ambassador Rice by the White House or any federal agency.
In its Motion for Status Conference Judicial Watch argues:
Because Secretary Clinton was at the center of the State Department’s official statement blaming the online video for the attack in Benghazi, her emails and those of her staff within the Office of the Secretary about the talking points given to Ambassador Rice are clearly responsive to Judicial Watch’s request.
Judicial Watch’s litigation efforts have almost certainly forced the State Department to publicly disclose Hillary Clinton’s secret email accounts:
On November 12, 2014, the State Department released its production of responsive, non-exempt, records that Judicial Watch understood to be complete. In its letter, the Department stated that it located four (4) documents as a result of its search of the Office of the Secretary…On December 5, 2014, the State Department produced its draft Vaughn index pursuant to the Court’s September 15, 2014 Order…In both instances, the State Department omitted that its search did not include Secretary Clinton’s emails in the Office of the Secretary. More egregiously, the State Department omitted that Secretary Clinton had apparently just turned over 55,000 pages of her agency emails that had not been searched or included in the Department’s draft Vaughn index…These omissions are material and were apparently made in the process of settlement discussions to induce dismissal.
A supplemental search and document production is due April 2, 2015 solely because Judicial Watch requested search affidavits, surprised that that the State Department located only four responsive records – none of which are Secretary Clinton’s emails and all of which were previously produced in another litigation…Judicial Watch has no reason to believe that the State Department would have ever disclosed that its search was compromised had Judicial Watch not asked for search affidavits when it reviewed the draft Vaughn index and limited production.
A statement by the State Department in a February 2, 2015, status report was the first notice to the public and the court that other records had not been searched: “[The State Department] has discovered that additional searches for documents potentially responsive to the FOIA must be conducted.”
Ultimately, it is clear that Judicial Watch played a special role in the email revelations now coming to light. It was this FOIA lawsuit that forced the disclosure of Clinton’s secret email. It is also now clear that Clinton, the State Department, and the Justice Department misled and gamed Judicial Watch, the federals courts and the American people.
There is little doubt that Team Obama will resist the efforts of groups like Judicial Watch to bring government misconduct to light. The Associated Press has just released the results of its latest analysis of federal data. It shows that the administration is censoring and denying access to data that should be available under the FOIA law. AP has also sued the State Department to obtain Clinton’s email records. This work by other organizations is encouraging, and efforts of groups like Judicial Watch will hopefully continue to inspire others to pursue open government.
AP reports that during fiscal year 2014, citizens, journalists, businesses, and other entities made a record 714,231 requests for information. The government responded to 647,142 requests, a 4 percent decrease from the previous year.
The American people have more questions but are getting fewer answers from the Obama administration.
“The government more than ever censored materials it turned over or fully denied access to them, in 250,581 cases or 39 percent of all requests,” the AP report says. “Sometimes, the government censored only a few words or an employee’s phone number, but other times it completely marked out nearly every paragraph on pages.”
This is not news to Judicial Watch, as the group has been forced to file hundreds of lawsuits under FOIA, most of which just to get the Obama administration to merely answer requests as the law requires.
Now, despite the fact it was “Sunshine Week,” a time dedicated to espousing and highlighting open government principles, the Obama White House has made a mockery of concerns about transparency caused by the email scandal by trying to kill FOIA for the White House Office of Administration (OA), the agency one would ask about how Mr. Obama’s emails are being managed. USA Today broke the story:
Unlike other offices within the White House, which were always exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, the Office of Administration responded to FOIA requests for 30 years. Until the Obama administration, watchdog groups on the left and the right used records from the office to shed light on how the White House works.
“This is an office that operated under the FOIA for 30 years, and when it became politically inconvenient, they decided they weren’t subject to the Freedom of Information Act anymore,” said Tom Fitton of the conservative Judicial Watch.
Using the excuse of just one appellate court ruling from 2009 that exempts the OA from FOIA, the White House suddenly issued a notice, in Orwellian fashion, that walls off the agency from any possible scrutiny. USA Today notes that the “White House did not explain why it waited nearly six years to formally acknowledge the court ruling in its regulations.”
It does not take an overly active imagination to determine what is behind this sudden move. US News reported JW’s take:
Tom Fitton, president of the conservative transparency group Judicial Watch, tells U.S. News he doubts the move is merely long-overdue housekeeping.
“I have no doubt this move is to try to cut off any public inquiry into Barack Obama’s emails,” Fitton says. “We won’t be put off and are taking steps to find out what the White House wants to hide about the president’s emails.”
Not only will Judicial Watch push to shake loose Hillary Clinton’s secreted State Department records, but they will continue advocating for more information on the records of President Obama, her co-conspirator in violating the American’s people “right to know.”
Judicial Watch’s goal – one that should be shared by Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, and everyone in between – is to recover and secure records that the public is entitled to under the law.