By Jason Leopold
Roughly 55,000 pages worth of emails that belong to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won’t be released any time soon, according to court papers filed Monday night, which say the State Department doesn’t intend to make the electronic communications available to the public until January 15, 2016.
The court documents were filed in connection with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by VICE News last January, months before the controversy erupted over Clinton’s use of private email to conduct business during her tenure as Secretary of State. VICE News sought Clinton’s emails and a wide range of other documents pertaining to her work as Secretary of State.In a 13-page declaration that for the first time lays out the State Department’s review of Clinton’s emails, the department’s FOIA chief John Hackett described the time consuming task of reviewing the documents, which were turned over by Clinton in “paper form in twelve bankers’ boxes.”
“The Department initially performed tasks necessary to organize the records,” Hackett said in his declaration. “This included foldering, boxing, and creating a box level inventory of the records. In consultation with the National Archives and Records Administration, the [State] Department also conducted a page-by-page review of the documents to identify, designate, mark, and inventory entirely personal correspondence, i.e., those documents that are not federal records, included within the 55,000 pages.”
Clinton’s use of personal email to conduct official business during her first four years as Secretary of State was first revealed by the New York Times last March, and has since snowballed into a potentially epic scandal. It has been widely reported that Clinton’s decision to use private email was a means to thwart FOIA requests. Under federal law, Clinton’s work-related emails would be considered government records and should 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.
During Clinton’s time as Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013, the State Department received at least a half-dozen FOIA requests for her emails covering various issues. But Clinton operated a private server out of her home, and her emails were not accessible to the FOIA analysts tasked with processing the requests. The State Department has failed to produce any records responsive to the requests, some of which dated back five years.
Clinton addressed the email controversy in a news conference last March at the United Nations. She said her decision to exclusively use a private email account to conduct official business was a matter of “convenience,” and she acknowledged that “in hindsight” she should have used a government email account.
Related: What Hillary Clinton and the State Department Didn’t Say About Her Emails
“When I got to work as Secretary of State, I opted for convenience to use my personal email account, which was allowed by the State Department, because I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and my personal emails instead of two,” Clinton said. “Looking back, it would have been better if I had simply used a separate email account and used a separate phone, but at the time, this didn’t seem like an issue.”
After the New York Times broke the story about Clinton’s use of her personal email, Clinton took to Twitter and announced that she wanted all of her emails to be released publicly. The State Department said it has since been bombarded with additional FOIA requests and dozens of lawsuits. Hackett said the State Department’s FOIA office has “63.5 fulltime employees to address these numerous FOIA requests and appeals, as well as FOIA litigation.”
In a footnote in his declaration, Hackett said the State Department has received nearly 14,000 new requests since October 2014 “and is currently engaged in nearly 80 FOIA litigation cases, many of which involve court-ordered document production schedules.”
Hackett said the Clinton email “project” is staffed with a “project manager and two case analysts as well as nine FOIA reviewers who devote the entirety of their time at the State Department to this effort, plus other analysts and information technology specialists who provide collateral assistance to this review in addition to their regular duties.
“The team managing this project has met daily since early April to implement and oversee this large undertaking,” he said.
The State Department said the emails would not be released until January because they need to consult with “a broad range of subject matter experts within the department and other agencies as well as potentially foreign governments.”
Related: Here Is the State Department’s First ‘Official’ Release of a Hillary Clinton Email
“These records are comprised of communications to or from the former Secretary of State, who was responsible for the overall direction and supervision of the full range of activities of the Department, which operates in approximately 285 locations around the globe,” Hackett said.
Additionally, he said the review of the emails requires the Clinton project team to hand-process and scan all 55,000 pages “to ensure that all information is being captured in the scanning process. ” This involves steps “that are time consuming and labor intensive,” he said.
Upon receiving Clinton’s emails, the State Department conducted a separate review to search for any emails related to the 2012 attacks on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. Those records were turned over to Republican lawmakers in Congress who are investigating the attacks.
“As a result of that manual review, the Department located and produced to the House Select Committee 296 emails composed of approximately 850 pages,” Hackett said. “In light of the public interest in those records and the fact that the Department already has identified them within the larger collection, the Department has prioritized the FOIA review of those 296 e-mails.”
The documents will be posted on a State Department website dedicated exclusively to Clinton’s emails. – Vice News
Follow Jason Leopold on Twitter: @JasonLeopold
By Jason Leopold