Jun 2, 2016 by

Under the Radar POLITICO

Josh Gerstein on the Courts, Transparency, & More


A federal judge ruled Wednesday that another batch of Hillary Clinton-related emails must be turned over to the Democratic presidential candidate’s political adversaries in advance of the national political conventions this summer.

U.S. District Court Judge Ketanji Jackson ordered the U.S. Agency for International Development to produce a set of messages to the Republican National Committee by July 11 and to come up with a timeline by July 19 for disclosure of the remaining records.

Last December, the RNC sent two Freedom of Information Act requests to USAID. One demanded all emails between officials in 16 top positions at USAID and 10 Web domains connected to former Secretary of State Clinton, President Bill Clinton and their daughter Chelsea, including domains linked to the Clinton Foundation. The other request sought all emails between top USAID officials and 10 former State Department officials considered close to the Clintons, including Director of Policy Planning Anne-Marie Slaughter, Chief of Protocol Capricia Marshall and Deputy Chief of Protocol Dennis Cheng.

The requests appear to focus on Clinton critics’ claims that the activities of the Clinton Foundation and of some former aides to the Clintons improperly influenced official business at the State Department and USAID. After USAID didn’t fork over any documents, the RNC filed a lawsuit in March.

During a half-hour hearing Wednesday afternoon, Justice Department lawyer Jean-Marie Voltaire told Jackson that “approximately 3,373 pages” of documents are “potentially responsive” to the requests. The lawyer said USAID can process about 800 of those pages on its own but the other roughly 2,600 will require consultation with the State Department. However, USAID resisted making any commitment on State’s behalf about how long State’s review might take.

A lawyer representing the RNC, Jason Torchinsky, said the party was satisfied with getting the 800 or so pages by July 11. However, he said the open-ended schedule beyond that was troubling.

“It’s what comes next that we have a problem with,” Torchinsky told the judge. “We could wait a year or two years or more before we have a production schedule.”

Torchinsky noted that FOIA doesn’t contain any language about agencies referring documents to other agencies for their response, but Voltaire said that court rulings have blessed that practice. He also noted that the RNC never sought expedited processing of its request, something permitted under the law in certain circumstances.

However, Jackson said it was reasonable to require that after State Department officials see the larger batch of records last month they commit to a timeline for processing them.

“I will order [you] include a proposed scheduled for production by some date certain … some sort of robust examination of the time frame,” said the judge. “Push them.”

“We will work diligently,” Voltaire said.

At one point, more than 70 FOIA lawsuits relating to Clinton’s private email server were pending. The RNC has filed several of them.

While the State Department says it has completed releasing all nonexempt portions of about 30,000 emails Clinton turned over in late 2014, the agency is continuing to respond to requests for emails belonging to her top aides. The result is a sporadic flow of additional documents about Clinton’s four-year tenure at State, causing turbulence and distraction for her presidential campaign.

Jackson, the judge handling the RNC case in court Wednesday, is an appointee of President Barack Obama and was on several widely circulated shortlists for the current Supreme Court vacancy.


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