FOIA evasion

August 22, 2019 – A federal judge criticizes State and Justice departments on Clinton email cover-up; gives Clinton and Mills 30 days to oppose being deposed

(Credit: Judicial Watch)

“Judicial Watch released the transcript today from their hearing on Thursday, August 22, 2019, where U.S. District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth granted significant new discovery to Judicial Watch on the Clinton email issue (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:14-cv-01242)).

During the hearing, Judge Lamberth specifically raised concerns about a Clinton email cache recently discussed in a letter to Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) and wants Judicial Watch to “shake this tree” on this issue.

[J]ust last week, the Senate’s – Senate Finance and Homeland Security Committees released documents revealing that Clinton IT aide Paul Combetta copied all but four of the missing emails to a Gmail account that does not appear to have ever been reconstructed and searched. The court thinks Judicial Watch ought to shake this tree. 

Judge Lamberth also criticized the State Department’s handling and production of Clinton’s emails in this case stating, “There is no FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] exemption for political expedience, nor is there one for bureaucratic incompetence.” 

At the beginning of their oral arguments, lawyers for the State Department wrongfully stated that Judicial Watch could no longer continue their discovery. The court stopped their arguments saying that Judicial Watch can continue to find more evidence in this case:

Judge Royce C. Lamberth (Credit: Charles Dharapak/The Associated Press)

STATE DEPARTMENT: … it is, of course, Judicial Watch’s burden to explain to Your Honor why there has been good cause to reopen discovery now that discovery has closed in this case.

THE COURT: Well, I didn’t close discovery. So your premise is wrong.

STATE DEPARTMENT: Fair enough, Your Honor. Whether you want to call it closed or not, it is still —

THE COURT: I didn’t close it. I said I would have a status after they took this initial discovery, and that’s what I’m doing today. I didn’t close discovery.

STATE DEPARTMENT: That’s right, Your Honor, but it is still Judicial Watch’s —

THE COURT: So they don’t need any good cause —

STATE DEPARTMENT: Whether

THE COURT: — Today the good cause continues from whether or not State was acting in good faith, and I’ll tell you everything they’ve discovered in this period raises serious questions about what the hell the State Department’s doing here.

The court rejected DOJ and State efforts to derail further Judicial Watch discovery. Judge Lamberth called their arguments “preposterous” and cited a prior Judicial Watch FOIA case in which he ordered U.S. Marshals to seize records from a Clinton administration official.

I’ll tell you another thing I didn’t like in your brief. I’ll tell you right now upfront. You put in your brief the most preposterous thing, I thought, in your brief was the very idea that — let me read you the line. Competitive Enterprise Institute was a case of first impression and that some District Judge bought that and the Court of Appeals reversed it. Now, that wasn’t a case of first impression at all. The first impression with me was a case I had involving Ron Brown and the travel records of whether or not, in the Commerce Department — and it was a Judicial Watch case — whether or not the Commerce Department was selling seats on trade missions, and I had a Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce who took a box of records home and then they gave a no-records response and, in the course of that, I found out he had taken the records home and they said they had no records.  I sent marshals over and they got the box at his house, and I ordered them – the marshals — to seize the records. That was the first case.

The Judge also stated that the government has mishandled this case and the discovery of information including former Secretary Clinton’s emails so poorly that Judicial Watch may have the ability to prove they acted in “bad faith,” which would entitle them to attorney’s fees.

Judge Lamberth detailed how the State Department “spent three months from November 2014 trying to make this case disappear,” and that after discovering the State Department’s actions and omissions, “Now we know more, but we have even more questions than answers. So I won’t hold it against Judicial Watch for expanding their initial discovery request now.”

Judge Lamberth stated his goal was to restore the public’s faith in their government, which may have been damaged because of the Clinton email investigation:

When I authorized discovery back in December, I described my goal: to rule out egregious government misconduct and vindicate the public’s faith in the State and Justice Departments. That’s still my goal today. This isn’t a case I relish, but it’s the case before me now, and it’s a case of the government’s making.”

The court granted Judicial Watch seven additional depositions, three interrogatories and four document requests related to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. Hillary Clinton and her former top aide and current lawyer Cheryl Mills were given 30 days to oppose being deposed by Judicial Watch.

Below is the court’s ruling from the bench granting Judicial Watch’s significant new discovery:”

(Read more: Judicial Watch, 9/06/2019)

August 21, 2019 – Judicial Watch will seek the deposition of Hillary Clinton and Cheryl Mills

“Judicial Watch announced today that a federal court ordered a hearing for Thursday, August 22, 2019, on the Clinton email issue. On December 6, 2018, U.S. District Court Judge Lamberth ordered Obama administration senior State Department officials, lawyers and Clinton aides to be deposed or answer written questions under oath.

The court ruled that the Clinton email system was “one of the gravest modern offenses to government transparency.” The court ordered discovery into three specific areas: whether Secretary Clinton’s email use of a private email server was intended to stymie FOIA; whether the State Department’s intent to settle this case in late 2014 and early 2015 amounted to bad faith; and whether the State Department has adequately searched for records responsive to Judicial Watch’s request.

Judicial Watch deposed nearly a dozen witnesses and will seek addition[al] witnesses and documents from the court, including the deposition of Hillary Clinton and Cheryl Mills, her chief of staff at State and personal lawyer who directed the destruction of 33,000 State Department Clinton emails. Lawyers for Clinton and Mills are expected at the hearing Thursday.”

December 6, 2018 – Federal Judge Royce C. Lamberth opens discovery into Clinton email usage

Judge Royce C. Lambert (Credit: public domain)

“Judicial Watch announced today that, in a ruling excoriating both the U.S. Departments of State and Justice, U.S. District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth has ordered both agencies to join Judicial Watch in submitting a proposed schedule for discovery into whether Hillary Clinton sought to evade the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by using a private email system and whether the State Department acted in “bad faith” by failing to disclose knowledge of the email system.  The decision comes in a FOIA lawsuit related to the Benghazi terrorist attack.

Lamberth ruled:

“… the Court ORDERS the parties to meet and confer to plan discovery into (a) whether Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email while Secretary of State was an intentional attempt to evade FOIA; (b) whether the State Department’s attempts to settle this case in late 2014 and early 2015 amounted to bad faith; and (c) whether State has adequately searched for records responsive to Judicial Watch’s requests.”

Terming Clinton’s use of her private email system, “one of the gravest modern offenses to government transparency,” Lamberth wrote in his MEMORANDUM OPINION:

“… his [President Barack Obama’s] State and Justice Departments fell far short. So far short that the court questions, even now, whether they are acting in good faith. Did Hillary Clinton use her private email as Secretary of State to thwart this lofty goal [Obama announced standard for transparency]? Was the State Department’s attempt to settle this FOIA case in 2014 an effort to avoid searching – and disclosing the existence of – Clinton’s missing emails? And has State ever adequately searched for records in this case?”

***

At best, State’s attempt to pass-off its deficient search as legally adequate during settlement negotiations was negligence born out of incompetence. At worst, career employees in the State and Justice Departments colluded to scuttle public scrutiny of Clinton, skirt FOIA, and hoodwink this Court.

Turning his attention to the Department of Justice, Lamberth wrote:

“The current Justice Department made things worse. When the government last appeared before the Court, counsel claimed, ‘it is not true to say we misled either Judicial Watch or the Court.’ When accused of ‘doublespeak,’ counsel denied vehemently, feigned offense, and averred complete candor. When asked why State masked the inadequacy of its initial search, counsel claimed that the officials who initially responded to Judicial Watch’s request didn’t realize Clinton’s emails were missing, and that it took them two months to ‘figure [ ] out what was going on’… Counsel’s responses strain credulity.” [citations omitted]

The Court granted discovery because the government’s response to the Judicial Watch Benghazi FOIA request for Clinton emails “smacks of outrageous conduct.”

Citing an email (uncovered as a result of Judicial Watch’s lawsuit) that Hillary Clinton acknowledged that Benghazi was a terrorist attack immediately after it happened, Judge Lamberth asked:

Did State know Clinton deemed the Benghazi attack terrorism hours after it happened, contradicting the Obama Administration’s subsequent claim of a protest-gone-awry?”

(Read more: Judicial Watch, 12/06/2018)