Newly released emails from Hillary Clinton’s tenure at the State Department have revived debate over whether she commingled diplomacy with people involved with the Clinton Foundation and raise questions about how State handled requests for information about her email practices under the Freedom of Information Act going back years.
The emails, obtained by the conservative legal group Judicial Watch, were not included in emails Clinton previously turned over to the State Department. They appear to document that Clinton chief of staff Cheryl Mills and other State aides were alerted in 2012 to a FOIA request seeking details about Clinton’s private email account, a request that produced no results. Existence of that controversial home server was not disclosed to the public and most State employees until March 2015.
In December 2012, Anne Weismann, then of the nonprofit organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, sent State a FOIA request seeking records “sufficient to show the number of email accounts of, or associated with, Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the extent to which those email accounts are identifiable as those of or associated with Secretary Clinton.”
The State Department’s Office of Information Programs and Services in May 2013 replied to CREW, saying “no records responsive to your request were located.” Mills, the newly released emails show, was alerted to the request by communications staffer Brock Johnson, whom she thanked. When Mills was deposed this May by Judicial Watch, she was asked whether she recalled that alert, and she said no.
State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, in his January 2016 report on the department’s handling of emails, said the department’s FOIA procedures were often “inaccurate and incomplete.”
“This is evidence that Cheryl Mills covered up Hillary Clinton’s email system,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “She was aware of the FOIA request about Clinton’s email accounts and allowed a response to go out that was a plain lie. And you can bet if Cheryl Mills knew about this inquiry, then Hillary Clinton did, too,” added Fitton, who has filed to depose Clinton herself on her email use.
CREW did not respond to Government Executive’s request for comment.
The Clinton presidential campaign, meanwhile, on Tuesday rejected charges that the previously unreleased emails show a conflict of interest between Clinton’s work as top diplomat and the personnel involved with the Clinton Foundation.
In a related matter, Judicial Watch on Wednesday reported that the Justice Department on July 29 presented Judicial Watch with a “startling $50,000 bill to search for public records the agency claims don’t exist.”
The group’s FOIA request, seeking documents related to a United Nations law enforcement coalition supported by Justice and the State Department, was answered long after the 20-day deadline for charging fees, Judicial Watch noted, and mistakenly characterized the group as commercial rather than nonprofit. It is appealing the charge.
Nate Jones, FOIA project director of the nonprofit National Security Archive, said Judicial Watch has a case for being a noncommercial requester. He has written on how agencies sometimes use high FOIA fees to avoid releasing sensitive documents. “It is extremely fishy that the DOJ claims not to have a single document about this much publicized initiative,” he told Government Executive. “The ‘no docs’ finding alone does not pass the smell test,” he said, saying that the $50,000 charge for a search that turned up nothing is a “slap in the face.”