U.S. District Court Judge for the District of Columbia Rudolph Contreras asked the State Department to file a notice that would include a proposed deadline for the release of Hillary Clinton’s emails, as well as a new proposal for a schedule that involves releasing documents on a rolling basis.
A lawyer for journalist Jason Leopold, who has filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking all the emails Clinton turned over from her private server, told the judge he wanted the Benghazi emails “produced immediately” and requested that the other emails — some 55,000 pages — be released on a rolling basis. He also asked for periodic updates on the production.
The government had stated in their filings to the court that it would complete a review of thousands of pages of by Jan. 15, 2016, according to papers in an ongoing Freedom of Information lawsuit, suggesting that the full release of documents wouldn’t come out until next year.
“The Department understands the considerable public’s interest in these records and is endeavoring to complete the review and production of them as expeditiously as possible,” wrote John F. Hackett , the acting Director of the Office of Information Programs and Services at the State Department, in the Court declaration.
On Tuesday, Contreras seemed amenable to the request for a rolling release, telling the government that it didn’t sound “unreasonable”. At one point the judge asked, isn’t “rolling production the norm?”
When the State Department’s lawyer talked about its detailed process of the review the judge responded, you “can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
“Given the volume of the records, its not unreasonable for the department to ask for a deadline of January 2016 to complete the entire review, but we do think its unreasonable for them to withhold all of the records until that date, which is why we requested a rolling production, and we are happy that the judge appears ready to adopt a rolling production in this case,” Leopold’s lawyer, Ryan Steven James, said following the hearing.
The State Department’s lawyer said that the Benghazi emails would be posted “soon” suggesting it could occur in weeks or days.
Hackett said that after the review is completed, the plan is to post the releasable portions on the Department’s website. He said that in December 2014, Clinton provided approximately 30,000 emails, comprising approximately 55,000 pages in response to a letter sent by the Department of State to former Secretaries requesting emails “sent or received on a personal email account.”
The documents arrived in twelve “bankers’ boxes with labels placed on the outside of the boxes that corresponded approximately to the timeframe of the documents in the box. The Department conducted a page by page review of the documents in consultation with the National Archives Records Administration.
Hackett said that a separate review was conducted on a “date-limited” portion of the 55,000 pages to locate any that were responsive to requests of the House Select Committee on Benghazi. “As a result of that manual review, the Department located and produced to the House Select Committee 296 emails composed of approximately 850 pages.”
In the coming weeks and months the review will require consultation with other agencies, as well as “potentially with foreign governments”.
Citizens United, a public interest group with several pending FOIA lawsuits, hopes the proposed deadline does not interfere with document productions for their cases concerning key Clinton associates, the Benghazi controversy as well as information concerning The Clinton Foundation.
“When we asked for these records a year ago, we fully expected the Clinton Foundation’s relationship with the State Department to be a central issue of the presidential election in 2016,” said David Bossie the President of the group.
“We fully expect to receive some of Secretary Clinton’s emails that have been in question for several months,” he said.
The staff is comprised of a project manager, two case analysts, as well as nine FOIA reviewers as well as other specialists who have met daily since April.
In detailing the Department’s plan Hackett wrote,”this will make the maximum number of records available to the public in the shortest amount of time, and will be considerably more efficient than reviewing the documents piecemeal, in response to multiple subject-specific FOIA requests. “