Judge or­ders re­open­ing of Clin­ton email in­quiry

Dayton Daily News - - NATION & WORLD - By Spencer S. Hsu

A U.S. judge WASH­ING­TON — or­dered the Jus­tice and State de­part­ments Thurs­day to re­open an in­quiry into whether Hil­lary Clin­ton used a pri­vate email server while sec­re­tary of state to de­lib­er­ately evade pub­lic records laws, and to an­swer whether the agen­cies acted in bad faith by not telling a court for months that they had asked in mid-2014 for miss­ing emails to be re­turned.

The or­der risks re­open­ing par­ti­san wounds that have barely healed since Clin­ton’s un­suc­cess­ful 2016 pres­i­den­tial bid, but in is­su­ing the or­der Thurs­day, U.S. District Judge Royce Lam­berth said the spirit of the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act re­quired it.

In a nar­row but sharply worded 10-page opin­ion, Lam­berth wrote that de­spite the gov­ern­ment’s claimed pre­sump­tion of trans­parency, “faced with one of the gravest modern of­fenses to gov­ern­ment open­ness, (the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s) State and Jus­tice de­part­ments fell far short” of the law’s re­quire­ments in a law­suit for doc­u­ments.

Lam­berth added that de­spite Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s re­peated cam­paign at­tacks against Clin­ton for not mak­ing her emails pub­lic, “the cur­rent Jus­tice Depart­ment made things worse,” by tak­ing the po­si­tion that agen­cies are not obliged to search for records not in the gov­ern­ment’s pos­ses­sion when a FOIA re­quest is made.

Lam­berth wrote he took no plea­sure in “ques­tion­ing the in­ten­tions of the nation’s most au­gust” Cab­i­net de­part­ments, but said it was nec­es­sary when their re­sponse “smacks of out­ra­geous mis­con­duct.”

Con­ser­va­tive le­gal watch­dog group Ju­di­cial Watch filed its FOIA law­suit in July 2014 seek­ing State Depart­ment talk­ing points is­sued after the Septem­ber 2012 at­tacks on U.S. fa­cil­i­ties in Beng­hazi, Libya, that left the U.S. am­bas­sador dead.

The suit came months be­fore news broke in March 2015 that Clin­ton ex­clu­sively used a pri­vate email server as sec­re­tary from 2009 to 2013.

Be­tween July 2014 and March 2015, the State Depart­ment said in court fil­ings that its doc­u­ment searches were ad­e­quate and did not men­tion un­searched records as it pro­posed to set­tle the case. The agen­cies later ac­knowl­edged that ad­di­tional searches would be needed, with­out dis­clos­ing that it had re­ceived 30,000 emails re­turned by Clin­ton.

At best, Lam­berth said the gov­ern­ment’s ac­tions re­flect “neg­li­gence born of in­com­pe­tence,” adding, “At worst, ca­reer em­ploy­ees in the State and Jus­tice de­part­ments col­luded to scut­tle pub­lic scru­tiny of Clin­ton, skirt FOIA, and hood­wink this court.”

Lam­berth said he had de­layed rul­ing on the or­der un­til a sim­i­lar 2016 case be­fore an­other fed­eral judge in the District had wound down.

Lam­berth or­dered the gov­ern­ment’s at­tor­neys to meet with Ju­di­cial Watch and by Dec. 17 pro­pose to an­swer ad­di­tional ques­tions into whether “Clin­ton used a pri­vate email to stymie FOIA, whether State’s at­tempts to set­tle the case in 2014 and 2015 amounted to bad faith, and whether State’s sub­se­quent searches have been ad­e­quate.”

A Jus­tice Depart­ment spokes­woman de­clined to com­ment Thurs­day.

Its at­tor­neys in Oc­to­ber be­fore Lam­berth con­ceded some er­rors in the case’s han­dling but said that none amounted to bad faith or ly­ing, that records were searched soon after they were re­ceived and that ex­haus­tive re­ports by the FBI, in­spec­tor gen­eral and a House panel that in­ves­ti­gated the Beng­hazi at­tacks set­tled the mat­ter.

Clin­ton has claimed she used her per­sonal email sys­tem as a mat­ter of con­ve­nience while she was sec­re­tary of state, and that she took re­spon­si­bil­ity for her mis­take.

DOUG MILLS / NEW YORK TIMES

Hil­lary Clin­ton has claimed she used her per­sonal email as a mat­ter of con­ve­nience while she was sec­re­tary of state, and took re­spon­si­bil­ity for her mis­take.

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