The State Department provided an “inaccurate and incomplete” response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed in 2012 for records pertaining to Hillary Clinton’s email accounts, the agency’s inspector general (IG), Steve Linick, has determined.
According to a report published by Linick on Thursday, State’s FOIA office failed to provide information about Clinton’s email accounts in response to a records request filed in Dec. 2012 by the watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).
The Daily Caller first reported about CREW’s request in March, just days after news of Clinton’s exclusive use of a personal email account broke. (RELATED: State Department Refusing To Answer How It Handled Records Requests For Hillary Emails)
The organization, which was taken over in 2014 by David Brock, a staunch Clinton ally, was seeking records showing the “number of email accounts of or associated with Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton.” The request came in the wake of a scandal involving Environmental Protection Agency official Lisa Jackson, who emailed under the pseudonym “Richard Windsor.”
The State Department denied CREW’s request in May 2013, claiming that it did not have responsive records.
But as the IG report indicates, the State Department made the wrong determination. Clinton used the personal email account HDR22@clintonemail.com for most of her tenure at the State Department. And the account was not a big secret within the upper echelons of the agency. Copies of Clinton emails released by the State Department show that she emailed with dozens of State Department officials and others within the federal government.
One of those officials who was keenly aware of the email arrangement was Clinton’s chief of staff, Cheryl Mills. The IG found evidence to suggest that the State Department’s FOIA office notified Mills of CREW’s request. In turn, she instructed a member of her staff to keep an eye on the inquiry.
The IG also determined that the State Department’s FOIA team did not search Clinton’s office for her emails. By failing to conduct such a search, the State Department delayed the revelation of Clinton’s peculiar email setup for nearly two years after she left office. The Democratic presidential candidate gave the State Department 55,000 pages of her work-related emails in Dec. 2014, more than 22 months after she left office.
The report undermines a major defense used by Clinton in her scramble to downplay the email scandal. While she has repeatedly asserted that she went above and beyond by turning over her emails, the new report is the strongest official indication that her actions hindered the FOIA process.
TheDC has taken a keen interest in how the State Department handled CREW’s FOIA request, and others filed — and rejected — by news outlets such as Gawker and the Associated Press. In October, TheDC went so far as to file a FOIA lawsuit for processing notes for those requests. The notes could potentially show who FOIA staffers contacted during the records search process and what they were told.
While the State Department concurred with Linick’s findings, the agency has been unwilling to answer reporters’ questions about the false FOIA denials. In May, a spokesman for the agency told this reporter when asked why FOIAs for Clinton’s emails were erroneously denied, “I would refer you to Clinton’s team on this.”
The Clinton team did not respond to questions at the time.
But her campaign did respond to The Washington Post on Wednesday, though with a vague obfuscation.
“The Department had a preexisting process in place to handle the tens of thousands of requests it received annually, and that established process was followed by the Secretary and her staff throughout her tenure,” said Clinton’s campaign spokesman, Brian Fallon.
As for Mills, while the IG did not find evidence of wrongdoing on her part, her name has come up in other shady FOIA-related matters. Clinton emails released last week show that Mills was allowed to vet a sensitive State Department memo before its release in April 2012. Mills also intervened in a FOIA request for documents related to the Keystone XL pipeline. She reportedly demanded that some documents be withheld. (RELATED: Cheryl Mills Was Allowed To Review And Clear Records Releases)
While Mills’ involvement in the process is not prohibited, the FOIA process is supposed to be protected from political influence.
Melanie Sloan, who served as CREW’s executive director at the time its request was filed, said that Mills bears some responsibility for the inaccurate records denial.
“Cheryl Mills should have corrected the record,” Sloan told The Post. “She knew this wasn’t a complete and full answer.”
CREW did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Brock, its chairman, has aggressively downplayed the Clinton email scandal.