Fitton: Judicial Watch Victory — Court Orders State Department to Search Clinton Advisers’ Benghazi Emails

Man typing on a laptop computer. Science Photo Library / ABO
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Judicial Watch had a major court victory last week in our effort to get accountability in the Obama/Clinton Benghazi scandal.

Last week, D.C. District Court Judge Amit P. Mehta ordered the State Department “to search the state.gov e-mail accounts of Huma Abedin, Cheryl Mills, and Jacob Sullivan,” former aides of Hillary Clinton during her tenure as secretary of state. Judge Mehta ordered the State Department to search in those accounts “for records responsive to [Judicial Watch’s] March 4, 2015, FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] request.”

Of course, a JW FOIA lawsuit first broke open the Clinton email scandal – and Benghazi, too.

Judge Mehta, an Obama appointee, described our Clinton-Benghazi FOIA lawsuit as “a far cry from a typical FOIA case. Secretary Clinton used a private e-mail server, located in her home, to transmit and receive work-related communications during her tenure as Secretary of State.”

Further, Judge Mehta ruled:

[I]f an e-mail did not involve any state.gov user, the message would have passed through only the Secretary’s private server and, therefore, would be beyond the immediate reach of State. Because of this circumstance, unlike the ordinary case, State could not look solely to its own records systems to adequately respond to [Judicial Watch’s] demand.

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[The State Department] has not, however, searched the one records system over which it has always had control and that is almost certain to contain some responsive records: the state.gov e-mail server. If Secretary Clinton sent an e-mail about Benghazi to Abedin, Mills, or Sullivan at his or her state.gov e-mail address, or if one of them sent an e-mail to Secretary Clinton using his or her state.gov account, then State’s server presumably would have captured and stored such an e-mail. Therefore, State has an obligation to search its own server for responsive records.

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State has offered no assurance that the three record compilations it received [from Secretary Clinton and her aides], taken together, constitute the entirety of Secretary Clinton’s e-mails during the time period relevant to Plaintiff’s FOIA Request. Absent such assurance, the court is unconvinced “beyond material doubt” that a search of the state.gov accounts of Abedin, Mills and Sullivan is “unlikely to produce any marginal return.”

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Accordingly, the court finds that State has not met its burden of establishing it performed an adequate search in response to Plaintiff’s FOIA Request and orders State to conduct a supplemental search of the state.gov e-mail accounts of Abedin, Mills, and Sullivan.

This major court ruling may finally result in more answers about the Benghazi scandal – and Hillary Clinton’s involvement in it – as we approach the attack’s fifth anniversary. It is remarkable that we had to battle both the Obama and Trump administrations to break through the State Department’s Benghazi stonewall. Why are Secretary Tillerson and Attorney General Sessions wasting taxpayer dollars protecting Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration?

Judicial Watch asked a federal court to compel the Trump State Department to undertake a thorough search of all emails of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding the terrorist attack on Benghazi, including those of Clinton’s closest advisers. We also specifically asked the court to compel the agency to produce all records of communications between Clinton and top aide Jake Sullivan relating to Ambassador Susan Rice’s appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press the Sunday following the 2012 Benghazi massacre.

This long journey began on May 6, 2015, when we filed a lawsuit after the State Department failed to respond to a March 4, 2015, FOIA request seeking all emails of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton relating to the September 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. Special Mission Compound in Benghazi, Libya (Judicial Watch, Inc. v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:15-cv-00692)).

This latest breakthrough made headlines and again focused public attention on the Benghazi outrage. JW attorney Ramona Cotca, who was lead attorney on this case, was on Fox News Tuesday night discussing the victory.

The State Department has until September 22, 2017, to update the court on the status of the supplemental search and production of additional emails to us. We will let you know what we find!

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