The State Department is refusing to provide insight into how the federal agency handled Freedom of Information Act requests for Hillary Clinton’s emails, as fallout from Clinton’s use of a private email account as secretary of state is poised to stretch into a third day.
Since 2009, federal regulations have required agencies to preserve emails generated on outside systems. By failing to make those documents available to the Department, Clinton avoided having her emails made subject to numerous FOIA requests.
TheDC wanted to know how the State Department handled those FOIA requests once they were submitted by media outlets and special interest groups.
Did the FOIA office search State Department email systems for Clinton’s records and then, because she had not made them available to the agency, determine that no records existed? Or did the FOIA office contact Clinton or her aides only to be told that no such records existed?
Figuring that out would shed light on who was responsible for the agency being in violation of federal regulations. It would also help determine whether Clinton went out of her way to avoid transparency, an allegation which was bolstered by Wednesday’s revelation that the former first lady operated a private email server out of her Chappaqua, N.Y. home.
TheDC asked the State Department these specific questions and others. The agency answered some questions, but ignored the ones pertaining to the FOIA handling process.
Five records requests for Clinton emails are listed in State Department FOIA logs for 2012 and 2013.
Two of those requests were filed by reporters with The Associated Press, which recently threatened to sue the Department due to non-response. Another was filed by an unknown individual, Joseph Trotter. The website Gawker also filed a general request for Clinton emails in 2013 and reported back Tuesday that the Department responded claiming that it could find no records.
One request in particular, filed in Dec. 2012 by Citizens for Responsible Ethics in Washington, was of special interest because it sought specific records of Clinton’s email activities.
CREW is now headed by rabid Clinton supporter, David Brock, the founder of Media Matters. CREW was not under Brock’s control at the time it filed the FOIA.
CREW’s request, filed by general counsel Anne Weismann, sought “records sufficient to show the number of email accounts of or associated with Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the extent to which those emails are identifiable as those of or associated with Secretary Clinton.”
“By ‘identifiable’ we mean the extent to which the email account is in a name that would permit the public to identify it as an account of the secretary,” CREW’s request continued.
The organization filed several requests with various federal agencies after it was revealed that former EPA chief Lisa Jackson had maintained an email account under the alias “Richard Windsor.”
“CREW seeks to learn how widespread this practice is, and to evaluate the extent to which it has led to under-inclusive responses to FOIA, discovery, and congressional requests, and a failure to preserve records in a way that complies with the Federal Records Act.”
TheDC asked CREW whether the State Department responded to the request. CREW spokesman Stephen Santulli said that besides an initial acknowledgement letter, the organization received no further information about the request.
Rather than ask the State Department’s press office for information on the request, TheDC contacted the agency’s FOIA office to help shed light on the matter.
A specialist there told TheDC that CREW’s request was closed in May 2013. Asked what explanation was given for the closure, the specialist could not specify. TheDC followed up with Santulli to confirm that the organization did not receive notice that the request was closed. He maintained that CREW did not receive such a notice. (RELATED: How Did State Department Handle Hillary’s Open Records Requests?)
The likelihood that the State Department found no records responsive to CREW’s request raises questions over how the State Department searched for the accounts and the records and whether Clinton or her aides were contacted.
As previously mentioned, the State Department has avoided answering that line of inquiry.
“If they requested any of Secretary Clinton’s email communications it is the obligation of the chief information officer to search Clinton’s records,” Daniel Epstein, executive director of the government watchdog Cause of Action, told TheDC. “Any records that deal with official agency business, and those would all be agency records responsive to FOIA.”
“She has a duty under the Federal Records Act to preserve her records, and under the National Archives implementing regulations of the Federal Records Act, those records should have been stored on official State Department servers, and if they were not stored on such servers she would have had to get specific authorization to store them on those servers, which she never did.”