The American public may have learned much earlier than it eventually did that Hillary Clinton exclusively used a private email account. But two of her State Department aides intervened in late 2012 and early 2013 to block a Freedom of Information Act request seeking records for Clinton’s email accounts.
On Wednesday, Judicial Watch released two emails which show that Clinton insiders Cheryl Mills and Heather Samuelson were made aware of a “significant” FOIA request seeking those records. The liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) had filed the request on Dec. 6, 2012.
But even though Mills, Samuelson, and dozens of other State Department officials knew that Clinton used a private email account, the agency inexplicably and improperly rejected the request in May 2013, several months after Clinton & Co. left office.
Clinton did not turn over her work-related State Department emails to the government until December 2014. Their existence was not revealed to the public until the following March. (RELATED: State Dept. Refusing To Say How It Handled Records Requests For Hillary’s Emails)
Judicial Watch’s new records show that on Dec. 11, 2012, a State Department lawyer named Brock Johnson informed Mills — who served as Clinton’s chief of staff at the time — and Clarence Finney, the director of the office of correspondence and records of the Executive Secretariat, about the FOIA request.
Mills, who now works as Clinton’s lawyer, responded to Johnson, saying “Thanks.”
And on Jan. 7, 2013, Samuelson, who served as a senior adviser at State, was invited to join a conference call to discuss the FOIA inquiry.
Samuelson is the Clinton lawyer who was put in charge of sifting through the emails that were given to the State Department in December 2014. The Clinton team turned over more than 30,000 pages of work-related emails. And though Clinton has insisted that those were all of her work emails, FBI Director James Comey recently announced that “several thousand” of Clinton’s work emails had been deleted.
Sheryl Walter, the State Department’s director of office of information programs and services, and Karen Finnegan, the division chief of the State Department’s freedom of information program, were also set to take part in the call with Samuelson.
Walter has been involved with Mills in other shady FOIA situations.
In April 2012, she sent out an email in which she flagged a document to be released under FOIA which was “likely to get press attention.”
“I wanted to make sure everyone in my chain of command is aware of a declassified document we are planning to release under FOIA,” Walter wrote. (RELATED: Clinton Aide Was Allowed To Review And Clear State Department Records Release)
She noted that Mills “is aware and has cleared” the release of the document.
Mills’ involvement in the FOIA production process suggests that the lawyer sought to cover up, block, or hinder the release of information that might harm the State Department’s reputation or that of Clinton.
Mills’ and Samuelson’s involvement in the CREW request was established in January, when the State Department’s inspector general (IG) issued a report knocking the State Department for its “inaccurate and incomplete” handling of that FOIA request and others.
The report noted that the State Department’s legal office later determined that the agency’s response to CREW’s FOIA request was inaccurate.
Mills, who refused to be interviewed by State’s IG, was asked about her intervention in the CREW request during a deposition with Judicial Watch lawyers in May. But the seasoned Beltway attorney merely denied having “a specific memory” of the 2012 FOIA request or her exchange with State Department lawyer Brock Johnson.
The Daily Caller, which first flagged the State Department’s faulty response to CREW last March, interviewed the CREW official who filed the request earlier this year.
Anne Weismann no longer works at the watchdog, but she filed the request when she served as its executive director.
She told TheDC that she was shocked after learning that the State Department improperly rejected her FOIA request. (RELATED: David Brock’s CREW: A Watchdog That Doesn’t Bite)
“I would have commented and probably expressed my great disappointment that the response was as inaccurate as it was,” she said in interview.
NEXT PAGE: CREW Has Repeatedly Declined To Comment
But the watchdog has lost its bite now that it is under the control of David Brock, a close Clinton ally. Brock runs several super PACs devoted to electing Clinton.
CREW has repeatedly declined in the past to comment on the State Department’s and Mills’ handling of its FOIA request. The group’s spokesman did not return an email request for comment on Wednesday.
In a statement to TheDC, State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau pointed back to the IG report issued in January.
“This FOIA request as it relates to the State Department has been covered extensively in the press and reviewed previously by State’s Inspector General. The documents released today show what the OIG already reported: that senior staff were ‘informed of the request at the time it was received and subsequently tasked staff to follow up,'” Trudeau said.
She said the IG’s office concluded that there was “no evidence” that the State Department’s office of the Executive Secretariat, its office of the legal adviser, or its office of information programs and services — which is directed by Walter — “had knowledge of the Secretary’s email usage.”
That suggests that Samuelson and Mills did not share their knowledge of Clinton’s email system with their State Department colleagues.
“I can’t speculate about what Ms. Samuelson may or may not have known about the Secretary’s email use, or about what was discussed on this conference call,” Trudeau told TheDC.