Tuesday, July 5, 2016

State Department under fire for Clinton-related records delays

State Department under fire for Clinton-related records delays

Just five months before the presidential election, the State Department is under fire in courtrooms over its delays in turning over government files related to Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state.

In one case, the agency warned it needed a 27-month delay, until October 2018, to turn over emails from Clinton’s former aides, and the judge in another case, a lawsuit by The Associated Press, wondered aloud whether the State Department might be deliberately delaying until after the election.

“We’re now reaching a point where there’s mounting frustration that this is a project where the State Department may be running out the clock,” said U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Leon. The judge said he was considering imposing penalties on the agency if it failed to meet the next set of deadlines he orders. Leon wondered aloud at one point whether he might impose penalties for again failing to deliver records on time. He mused about “a fine on a daily basis” or “incarceration.”

“I can’t send the marshals, obviously, out to bring in the documents, at least they wouldn’t know where to go, probably,” Leon said.

Secretary of State John Kerry and other officials have said they are committed to public transparency, vowing that the State Department will improve its practices under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. Last year, after an inspector general’s audit harshly critical of the agency, Kerry appointed a “transparency coordinator,” Janice Jacobs, and said the agency would “fundamentally improve our ability to respond to requests for our records.”

But in three separate court hearings last week, officials acknowledged that their records searches were hobbled by errors and new delays and said they need far more time to produce Clinton records. In other cases where the agency has already reached legal agreements with news organizations and political groups, the final delivery of thousands of records will not come until months after the November election — far too late to give voters an opportunity to analyze the performance of Clinton and her aides.

State Department spokesman John Kirby blamed the spiraling delays on mounting requests for more files. “These requests are also frequently more complex, and increasingly seeking larger volumes of documents requiring more time, more resources and frankly, more interagency coordination,” Kirby said.

The State Department said in court that it had miscalculated the amount of material it expected to process as part of a public records lawsuit from Citizens United, a conservative interest group. In basic searches of 14,000 pages of records, officials failed to include the “to” and “from” lines of the messages, missing many possible records.