By Jason Leopold
At 9pm ET Tuesday evening, the State Department released about 3,000 pages of Hillary Clinton’s emails, which cover much of 2009, her first year as Secretary of State.
The emails refer to a wide-range of topics and hot-button issues Clinton, currently the Democratic presidential frontrunner, confronted that year, including Afghanistan, Iran, and the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. Despite the fact that Clinton said she wanted “all of her emails” released “as soon as possible,” the State Department redacted her emails and applied numerous exemptions under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) justifying the withholding of certain information.The State Department redacted large swaths of information in the emails, often citing a privacy exemption and an exemption that protects the so-called “deliberative process.” The emails also contained redactions in which the State Department withheld information citing a national security exemption, which calls into question Clinton’s assertion that she did not send classified information over her private email server.
Last weekend, Daniel Metcalfe, a former top FOIA official at the Justice Department, told VICE News that if State withheld any information from Clinton’s emails citing national security or “intelligence sources and methods,” it would “undermine her judgment” and would be a “credibility weakness” for Clinton.
One of the emails indicates that Senator Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, had contacted Clinton two months before the Bank of New York entered into a multibillion-dollar settlement with the Russian government to “talk to her about the problem the bank of ny is having in Russia.”
“Chuck schumer called me cause he’s been playing phone tag with hrc [Hillary Rodham Clinton],” wrote Huma Abedin, Clinton’s deputy chief of staff, in a July 2, 2009 email sent to top Clinton aides. “He wanted to talk to her about the problem the bank of ny is having in russia. He didn’t realize she wasn’t going. When I told him she wasn’t, he said he wanted to talk to [Deputy Secretary of State] Bill [Burns] and ask you to raise this issue with russian officials. Bill, are you able to call him and I will tell hrc you are calling back?”
The settlement between the Russian government and the Bank of New York revolved around a 1990s money-laundering scheme. It’s unclear to what extent Schumer was involved in the settlement talks.
The emails show that Clinton — whose emails and responses tend to be limited to just a few words or a single sentence — was engaged in discussions about Guantanamo months after President Barack Obama signed an executive order on his first day in office promising to close the facility within a year. The administration had proposed resettling a group of Chinese Guantanamo detainees in Virginia, but the plan received fierce opposition from both Democrats and Republicans. So a new plan was hammered out that would see the transfer of the 17 Guantanamo Uighurs — Chinese Muslims — to Palau and other countries.
Jeffrey Farrow, a Washington, DC-based government affairs consultant who was hired by Palau to serve as its legal counsel, sent a June 9, 2009 email to her providing some insight as to what took place behind the scenes.
“I am now representing Palau primarily re extension of free association w/ the US,” he wrote. “In touch w/[Guantanamo closure envoy Daniel] Fried’s office re Uighurs. Big commitment for Palau since Chinese tourism was planned and its close geographically, etc. but their premium is on US relations (as sadly demonstrated by the loss of a Palauan in the US Army in Afghanistan last week).”
Clinton also sent an email to her chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, a week later saying she needed to discuss an “urgent” issue regarding “Guantanamo detainees and Bermuda.” The June 16, 2009 email was sent five days after the US resettled some of the Uighurs there. But neither Clinton’s email to Mills or Mills’ response contains additional details about what Clinton wished to discuss.
The deal to transfer six of the Uighurs to Palau was finally reached on October 30, 2009. That month, Fried sent Clinton adviser Jake Sullivan an email saying, “Are now wheels up from GTMO. Will arrive Palau Saturday afternoon our time, Sunday am Palau time. Palau President has request no announcement until after they land.”
Clinton responded the next day asking whether the detainees had landed yet in the country and whether Congress was notified.
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Clinton considered visiting Guantanamo on August 18, 2009, but decided against traveling to the detention facility because of her schedule. In an email she sent that day to Mills and her adviser Jake Sullivan, she said: “Given my schedule today, I really don’t/can’t go to Gitmo. I think either Jack [Lew, deputy secretary of state] or Cheryl, accompanied by [State Department legal adviser] Harold [Koh] and Dan Fried should rep State. Or even Harold could go solo. Ok by you?”
The emails also show that Clinton’s close confidante Sidney Blumenthal said that she should avoid ever commenting on the CIA’s torture program. Blumenthal had regularly sent Clinton “confidential” emails about a wide range of topics, which Clinton would share with her staff, saying the information came from her “source.”
In a letter he sent to her on June 14, 2009, a time when new revelations about the CIA’s torture program were surfacing, Blumenthal briefed Clinton about an article New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer wrote about the program, saying her story contained “many moving and uncontrolled parts… which has become chronic and will flare up again and again.
“The ‘distraction’ will not go away,” Blumenthal wrote, advising Clinton to “avoid ever being drawn into commenting on any aspect.”
There was also confusion among Clinton’s staff about whether tweets were being sent out in Clinton’s name. In a June 2, 2009 email, under the subject line, “Not Sure Who is Twittering at DOS [Department of State],” sent by Mills, she said a Newsweek report suggested that Clinton was “twittering,” and characterized her use of 140 characters as “Dry info and offers 4,788 followers.” Mills said, “We should not be twittering in the Secretary’s name since she is not the person actually twittering. Can you advise who is twittering in her name and how we can address?”
The State Department’s tech guru, Alec Ross, advised Mills that no one at State was “twittering” in Clinton’s name. Rather, the tweets linked to her actually originated with the State Department blog’s twitter account. Ross sent another email to Mills after he read theNewsweek report and said the magazine had jumped to conclusions.
“It’s a leap for Newsweek to say that the State Dept
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Mills forwarded Ross’s emails to Clinton with an “FYI.”
Clinton’s emails were released in response to a FOIA lawsuit filed against State by VICE News last January. The State Department said in an off-the-record email sent to reporters earlier on Tuesday that the 3,000 pages of emails “meet a goal set by a court ruling [in VICE News’s FOIA lawsuit]whereby the Department is to ‘aspire’ to the release of 7 percent of the total number of pages of these documents by today’s date.”
The court order says the State Department must release Clinton’s emails on a monthly basis. The State Department chose to release the first batch of emails late at night, which is a common practice by government agencies attempting to minimize news coverage.
State Department spokesman John Kirby acknowledged during a press briefing Tuesday that the late-night dump is an “inconvenience” for reporters, but he denied that it was “deliberately intended to make your life harder.”
“I know that’s going to be the going assumption, but it is absolutely not the case,” Kirby said.
Still, State said in the email to reporters that Tuesday’s release of Clinton’s emails further demonstrates “our commitment to transparency,” even though State has consistently failed to respond to years-old FOIA requests for Clinton’s emails.
The New York Times first revealed in March that Clinton had exclusively used a private email account to conduct official government business during the four years she served as Secretary of State. Clinton said she decided to use a private email account to conduct official business because it was “convenient.” But many open government experts believe it was an attempt to thwart FOIA requests. Under federal law, Clinton’s work-related emails are considered government records and are supposed to be preserved on the State Department’s servers in accordance with the Federal Records Act so that journalists, historians, and the public can access them.
Follow Jason Leopold on Twitter: @JasonLeopold – Vice News