The Daily Caller is suing the State Department for records it hopes will shed more light on how much the agency knew about Hillary Clinton’s mysterious email setup as well as how it fielded Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for Clinton’s emails.
The government watchdog group Cause of Action is representing TheDC in the suit, which was filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The suit covers five Freedom of Information Act requests filed by this reporter between March and August which the State Department has so far not fulfilled. A preliminary injunction is being sought in order to force the State Department to speed up its hand-over of the records.
“Defendant has dragged its feet, refused to provide substantive updates on the status of the requests, and, through its delay, prevented Plaintiff’s access to the requested records and effectively denied it expedited processing,” the suit reads.
TheDC’s FOIA requests cover numerous angles in the ongoing Clinton email scandal — from who approved her use of a private email server to internal discussions the State Department had last summer, before the agency revealed to the House Select Committee on Benghazi that Clinton exclusively used a personal email account as secretary of state.
One request seeks the State Department’s “processing notes” for six FOIA requests filed by other news outlets in past years for Clinton’s emails. Processing notes should show how State Department staffers handled those requests once they were submitted.
The State Department has refused to shed light on how it handled the requests and whether it contacted Clinton or her aides. If the agency did ask Clinton or her team for her emails, her denial of having them or refusal to hand them over would raise further questions about her record-keeping practices.
Some of the past FOIA requests were filed after Clinton left the State Department in Feb. 2013. Requests filed in July and August of that year sought electronic correspondence between Clinton and her longtime aide, Huma Abedin, and emails between Clinton and other State Department officials.
Another FOIA request filed sought any Clinton emails sent or received mentioning Osama bin Laden and Navy SEAL Team 6. One sought records — including Clinton emails — pertaining to Abedin’s designation as a special government employee.
Other FOIA requests for Clinton records were filed while she was still in office, including one in Dec. 2012 by the non-profit watchdog, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). That request sought records sufficient to show how many email accounts Clinton used. And a Sept. 2010 request sought records of communications to or from State Department officials and Clinton.
The suit also seeks records which could shed light on how the State Department managed Clinton’s private email system. Records from Clinton’s personal IT staffer, Bryan Pagliano, and from Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy are being sought.
Pagliano began working at State in May 2009. While he held the position of senior advisor and deputy chief information officer, he also reportedly maintained Clinton’s private email server, which was kept at her Chappaqua, N.Y. home.
Pagliano has refused to testify about his work on Clinton’s behalf. He invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination during a brief closed-door meeting with the House Select Committee on Benghazi.
In his high-ranking position, Kennedy likely would have handled requests for special projects like Clinton’s off-the-books email system. Earlier this month, Clinton did say during an interview that nobody at the State Department approved her use of a personal email account. She has not stated whether her email server went through a vetting process. Clinton did not begin using the device until several months after she took office.
The suit also seeks records which could show how the State Department approached Clinton and her team about handing over her emails. Emails sent to and from then-chief of staff, David Wade, his deputy, Jonathan Finer, and deputy legal adviser Mary McLeod could provide insight on those negotiations.
Wade is mentioned in a transcript of an interview that Clinton’s former chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, gave to the Benghazi Committee in September. Wade and another State Department official contacted Mills to discuss several emails that would be turned over to the Benghazi Committee which showed Clinton’s personal email address. Mills said that the State Department was preparing for a media frenzy from that revelation.
Clinton has maintained that the State Department requested her emails as a housekeeping measure, and not as a response to her exclusive use of the personal email account.
Lastly, the suit seeks copies of OF-109 forms that may or may not be on file for Clinton and several of her top aides at the State Department, including Mills and Abedin. The OF-109 requires officials leaving the State Department to acknowledge that they turned over all federal records in their custody. Clinton did not do that for nearly two years after leaving office. The State Department did say in March that it found no record of Clinton signing an OF-109, though TheDC’s suit aims to get a definitive answer to that question.
“The material being sought here is not complicated to understand,” said Daniel Epstein, the executive director of Cause of Action, adding, “yet, for whatever reason the State Department has failed to process these FOIA requests in a timely manner, as required by law.”
“Whether requests have come from big news agencies or organizations like mine, this State Department has repeatedly shown an inability to produce basic information regarding the emails belonging to the former Secretary of State.”
Earlier this year, Cause of Action produced a report grading federal agencies for their handling of FOIA requests. The group gave the State Department a “D” based on its high average response time to FOIA requests.