January 7, 2016: The State Department’s internal watchdog slams the department’s FOIA process.

The State Department’s inspector general Steve Linick issues a report claiming that the department “repeatedly provided inadequate and inaccurate responses to Freedom of Information Act [FOIA] requests involving top agency officials, including a misleading answer to a request three years ago seeking information on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email use.”

Politico states the new report also points to “a series of failures in the procedures the office of the secretary used to respond to public records requests, including a lack of written policies and training, as well as inconsistent oversight by senior personnel.”

According to the report, “These procedural weaknesses, coupled with the lack of oversight by leadership and failure to routinely search emails, appear to contribute to inaccurate and incomplete responses.”

CREW's Logo (Credit: CREW)

CREW’s Logo (Credit: CREW)

One important flawed department response was a letter sent to the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) in May 2013 after the organization asked for details on email accounts used by Clinton. State’s response to CREW was, “no records responsive to your request were located.” The report says the inspector general’s office “found evidence that [Clinton’s chief of staff Cheryl Mills] was informed of the request at the time it was received and subsequently tasked staff to follow up.” However, according to the report, none of those officials appear to have reviewed the results of the search done in the department’s files, and there was “no evidence” that those staffers who did the search and responded to CREW knew about Clinton’s private email setup.  CREW followed up last year by saying it never received any final response to its FOIA request.

The AP Logo (Credit: The Associated Press)

The AP Logo (Credit: The Associated Press)

Other flaws pointed out by the inspector general’s report include extreme delays in other cases, such as an Associated Press FOIA request for Clinton’s schedules that was pending without substantive response for five years.

Politico also filed a FOIA request for legal and ethics reviews of former President Bill Clinton’s paid speeches. That request was pending for four years before the department began producing records.

The Gawker Logo (Credit: Gawker Media)

Another failed response involved a Gawker request for emails that former Clinton adviser Philippe Reines exchanged with 34 news organizations. Politico reports “that request initially received a “no records” response from [the] State [Department], even though State has now found 81,000 potentially responsive emails in its official files. At a court hearing last month, a government lawyer would not concede that the no-records response was inadequate.” (Politico, 1/7/2016)

 

August 19, 2016: A sailor is denied a ‘Clinton Deal’ and gets one year in prison for six photos of submarine.

Kristian Saucier (Credit: public domain)

Kristian Saucier (Credit: public domain)

On May 27, 2016, US Naval Machinist Kristian Saucier pled guilty for taking photos inside the attack submarine he had been working on. The case attracts attention due to its similarity to the Clinton email controversy.

According to US News and World Report, Saucier is sentenced on August 19, 2016 by a “federal judge rebuffing a request for probation in light of authorities deciding not to prosecute Hillary Clinton for mishandling classified information on a private email server as secretary of state.”

Saucier’s attorney Derrick Hogan argued in a court filing that Clinton had been “engaging in acts similar to Mr. Saucier with information of much higher classification.” Hogan also stated, “It would be unjust and unfair for Mr. Saucier to receive any sentence other than probation for a crime those more powerful than him will likely avoid.”

US District Judge Stefan R. Underhill (Credit: Hearst CT News)

US District Judge Stefan Underhill (Credit: Hearst CT News)

Saucier is sentenced by US District Judge Stefan Underhill to one year in prison and a $100 fine, along with six months home confinement, 100 hours of community service, and a ban on owning guns. Prosecutors had asked for six years in prison.

Greg Rinckey, another defense attorney for Saucier,   says he isn’t sure if the judge was affected by the media attention comparing Saucier’s case with Clinton’s email controversy. However, he states Underhill “cryptically made some comments about selective prosecution and how that didn’t play any factor. … Do I think it may have? Sure. But I think there was enough mitigation that the judge was able to depart from the sentencing guidelines [on that basis alone].” (US News & World Report, 08/19/16)

September 15, 2016: More information about the emails between Clinton and Obama is made public.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama (Credit: public domain)

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama (Credit: public domain)

While Clinton was secretary of state, she exchanged 18 emails with President Obama from her private email account. All information about these emails has remained classified. But some details are finally released due to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit by Vice News.

All of the emails were exchanged between May 18, 2012 and January 31, 2013. Obama sent eight emails to Clinton, and the other ten were from Clinton to Obama. None of the emails appear to contain highly sensitive or classified information, but instead are thank you notes, holiday greetings, and the like.

All of the emails were withheld under presidential privilege and privacy act and deliberative process exemptions to the FOIA. The new details are formally submitted in  what is called a Vaughn Index, a document prepared for FOIA lawsuits in which government departments justify the withholding of information. (Vice News, 09/15/16) (Vicc News, 09/15/16)

In February 2016, it was reported there were 19 emails between Clinton and Obama, not 18. It is unclear if the Vaughn Index is missing one or if the report of 19 emails was off by one.

 

September 15, 2016: A former Justice Department official claims the FBI wasn’t serious about its Clinton email investigation.

A Wall Street Journal editorial entitled “The FBI’s Blind Clinton Trust” elicits a September 15, 2016 letter to the editor response from Richard W. Beckler, former Chief of the Criminal Fraud Section of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Richard Beckler (Credit: Bracewell Law)

Richard Beckler (Credit: Bracewell Law)

Beckler writes, “Decisions to prosecute are made by the Justice Department. It is absolutely not the job of the FBI to make prosecutorial decisions. FBI Director James Comey didn’t bother to attend Hillary Clinton’s interview, though he was acting as the ostensible decision maker in the case. One would think he would want to test the witness’s credibility in person. This was clearly no ordinary case and demanded his close attention.”

Furthermore, despite what Comey says, “the FBI doesn’t need to get a referral from Congress to investigate [Clinton’s] false statements to Congress.” He claims, “the FBI’s 302 reports (handwritten notes by FBI agents during investigations) recorded by the FBI should have been turned over to Congress immediately and in their entirety.”

Beckler continues, “Contrary to the [Justice Department]’s normal policy of announcing names of the prosecution team, Mr. Comey hasn’t told anyone who the ‘career’ [Justice Department] attorneys were who supervised the FBI investigation. They have never been named.”

He concludes, “After this long drawn-out FBI inquiry, why did Mr. Comey rush to make his determination and recommendation barely three days after the actual interview took place?” (Wall Street Journal, 09/15/16)

 

September 19, 2016: A judge gives the State Department a tongue-lashing over its slow response to FOIA requests.

US District Court Judge Richard Leon criticizes the State Department over what he calls “foot-dragging” regarding Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests relating to Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state.

160919JudgeLeonpublic

US DC District Court Judge Richard Leon (Credit: public domain)

Leon warns Justice Department lawyers, “You have a client that, to say the least, is not impressing the judges on this court, myself included. … It is in your client’s interest to start being more obviously cooperative. The State Department is at risk of being perceived as obstreperous. [They] need to get with the program.”

The hearing is due to a FOIA lawsuit trying to force the release of documents on whether Clinton and her aides were trained to handle classified information. The State Department propose a deadline of October 17, 2016 to produce about 450 unclassified documents relating to the issue sought by the Daily Caller.

However, Leon orders the department to process and release of the records by October 10, 2016. (Politico, 09/19/16)

 

September 19, 2016: A House panel is looking into Combetta’s post about Clinton’s email server.

Representative Mark Meadows (Credit: public domain)

Representative Mark Meadows (Credit: public domain)

Representative Mark Meadows (R) of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is reviewing a Reddit post that suggests an IT (Internet technology) specialist who worked on Hillary Clinton’s private server  asked for advice on how to alter the contents of “VERY VIP” emails. Meadows is the chairman of the panel’s Government Operations subcommittee.

Reddit users uncovered a two-year-old post from an account they believe belongs to Paul Combetta, a Platte River Networks employee who helped manage Clinton’s private server. Meadows says, “the Reddit post issue and its connection to Paul Combetta is currently being reviewed by [my] staff and evaluations are being made as to the authenticity of the post. If it is determined that the request to change email addresses was made by someone so closely aligned with the Secretary’s IT operation as Mr. Combetta, then it will certainly prompt additional inquiry.”

Representative Jason Chaffetz (R), chair of the same House committee, has issued a criminal referral to the US attorney for the District of Columbia. The referral asks that the Justice Department investigate whether Clinton or her aides were involved in the decision to delete the emails while they were under subpoena and a request for preservation of records. (The Hill, 09/19/16)

 

September 23, 2016: Clinton’s lawyer refuses to comply with part of a subpoena for some of Clinton’s server security details.

Clinton’s personal lawyer David Kendall sends a letter to House Science, Space and Technology Committee chair Representative Lamar Smith (R), complaining about a recent Congressional subpoena to the computer company SECNAP, Inc., which assisted with the security of Clinton’s private server from 2013 onwards.

David Kendall (Credit: Williams & Connolly)

David Kendall (Credit: Williams & Connolly)

Kendall writes, “The subpoena … is overbroad.  We have no objection to the production of documents related to the SECNAP security device used in connection with the server that … hosted Secretary Clinton’s emails from her tenure as secretary …. We do object, however, to the production of SECNAP documents and security information regarding security equipment that was used by CESC [Clinton Executive Security Corp.] after the prior server was provided to the FBI, and thus, never hosted Secretary Clinton’s work-related emails.”

Kendall continues, “Documents regarding this equipment are likely to contain sensitive information related to security of the current network and/or server. Because these documents are unrelated to the Committee’s investigation and contain sensitive security information, I respectfully object to the portion of the subpoena seeking their production.”

Because SECNAP was hired by CESC, a Clinton family company, they want approval from Clinton’s lawyers regarding cooperation with government authorities. (Politico, 09/23/16)