- RNC wants State Department to turn over messages by July 1
- Lawsuit filed day after Clinton loses to Sanders in Michigan
The Republican National Committee sued the U.S. State Department seeking the release of years of records and e-mails from Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, her aides and associates.
The legal assault comes nine days after the State Department released the last of the more than 52,000 pages of messages stored on the former secretary of state’s private e-mail server. A judge ordered those released in a separate case -- one of more than a dozen lawsuits filed in relation to Clinton’s e-mails and use of the private server.
“Clinton’s actions while Secretary of State -- and the actions of those senior officials with whom she worked most closely and supervised -- are manifestly relevant to whether she is fit to lead this country,” the RNC said in the first of two complaints filed in Washington federal court Wednesday under the Freedom of Information Act.
The State Department declined to comment.
“This frivolous lawsuit is just another attempt by Republicans and right-wing groups to try to hurt Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign because she is the candidate they fear the most in a general election,” Clinton’s campaign spokesman Brian Fallon said in an e-mailed statement. “It is not going to work.”
Clinton is leading Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in the delegate count for her party’s nomination. Nonetheless, she had a surprise loss Tuesday in Michigan’s primary, where CNN exit polls showed 56 percent of voters believe she is “honest and trustworthy,” compared with 81 percent who believe that of Sanders. The number of voters rating her as honest decreased following revelations that she used the private e-mail server during her time as the U.S.’s top diplomat.
The RNC said the records were requested under FOIA in October and December but the State Department hasn’t responded.
“The Obama administration has failed to comply with records requests in a timely manner as required by law,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said in a e-mailed statement. “If this administration claims to be the ‘most transparent in history,’ and Clinton the ‘most transparent person in public life,’ then they should prove it, release these records, and allow the American people to hold her accountable.”
One request covers communication between State Department officials and individuals through domain names associated with Clinton, including those of political action committees and her campaign website. The second is for text and BlackBerry Messenger messages as well as e-mails to and from key senior aides, including Huma Abedin and Bryan Pagliano, who helped set up Clinton’s server.
The Justice Department granted Pagliano immunity from prosecution for his cooperation with an FBI investigation into Clinton’s handling of classified information.
The State Department’s slow reply to the RNC requests is typical of the agency, said Anne Weismann, executive director of the nonpartisan Campaign for Accountability, a Washington-based watchdog group.
“I would not read too much into their lack of response,” she said in a phone interview, adding that the government will probably reply that its delay here was at least partly attributable to the resources it had devoted to addressing those other FOIA demands.
While the Republican committee didn’t expressly say so, it appears they’re interested in learning how the State Department responded to earlier Clinton-related freedom of information cases, Weismann said.
“They want to know what it is that the State Department did to locate and produce the documents it did produce,” she said.
“Time is of the essence,” the RNC said in the complaint, which seeks to have the sought-after documents no later than July 1, in time for the Democratic National Convention.
Weismann said in a later e-mail that nothing requires a judge considering the RNC request to abide by that deadline.
“Judges are reluctant to interfere in partisan disputes, especially one that could impact a presidential election.” she said. “The overtly political portions of the complaints, such as the request for docs before the convention, lend credence to the view these suits were filed for partisan purposes, not that that is a reason to deny the requests.”
The first filed RNC case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta, a 2014 Obama appointee, while the second went to Judge Amy Berman Jackson, appointed to the bench by the president three years earlier.
The cases are Republican National Committee v. U.S. State Department, 16-cv-460 and 16-cv-461, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).
(A headline in earlier versions of this story was corrected to say the State Department was sued.)