Oversight

State Department Watchdog Finds 'Inaccurate' Response to Clinton E-Mail Questions

Chris Matthews on What’s on Hillary Clinton’s Mind

A report released Thursday by the State Department's Inspector General found the department provided inaccurate responses in 2012 to inquiries about then-Secretary Hillary Clinton's e-mail practices.

The in-house watchdog said the department often failed to meet its legal obligations in fulfilling public information requests, finding delays and lack of oversight in producing records under the past five secretaries. Clinton's use of private e-mail to conduct government business has dogged her Democratic presidential bid since it was revealed last year.

The report, which found lapses during the tenures of the past five secretaries, documented a request under the Freedom of Information Act from a government accountability group for records “sufficient to show the number of email accounts of, or associated with, Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the extent to which those email accounts are identifiable as those of or associated with Secretary Clinton.” The inquiry was prompted by the revelation that Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson used e-mail aliases to conduct government business.

After five months—in 2013 after Clinton left office—the State Department told Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington that “no records responsive to your request were located” despite many members of the department corresponding with Clinton on her private address and “evidence that the Secretary's then-Chief of Staff was informed of the request,” according to the report. The report put these events under a section labeled “inaccurate and incomplete.”

Clinton used private e-mail, which was once hosted on a server in her New York home, to send upward of 30,000 messages for government business. The revelation of the practice—which was strongly discouraged but allowed at the time—prompted a federal investigation into the security of her set-up, as well as criticism from allies and rivals.

The report also found that the Office of the Secretary's Executive Secretariat, which is responsible for searching its records for FOIA requests regarding the secretary of state and other senior officials, did “not consistently meet statutory and regulatory requirements for completeness and rarely meet requirements for timeliness.” The office did not routinely search e-mails for records responsive to requests, despite policy, and it lacked written policies, training for staff, and monitoring of compliance, according to the report.

“What happened under Mrs. Clinton was a complete upending of the FOIA law,” said Tom Fitton, president of the conservative government watchdog Judicial Watch, which made two of the three other requests documented in detail in the report.

The report went beyond Clinton, who served as President Barack Obama's secretary of state from 2009 to 2013. It found the department responded to just 14 out of 417 requests regarding the five most recent secretaries of state within 20 days, the amount of time specified by law. The report blamed many of the lapses on declining personnel at a time of rising demands but said the department had responded positively to all recommendations.

“The issues addressed in this report have the full attention” of current Secretary of State John Kerry and the department’s senior staff, State Department spokesman John Kirby said in an e-mailed statement.

“While the volume of State Freedom of Information Act requests has tripled since 2008, our resources to respond have not kept pace,” Kirby said. “That said, we know we must continue to improve our FOIA responsiveness and are taking additional steps to do so.”

A lawyer for Cheryl Mills, Clinton's State Department chief of staff, referred a request for comment to the campaign. Brian Fallon, a spokesman for the campaign, said in an e-mail that Mills hadn't done anything wrong and that “the department had a preexisting process in place to handle the tens of thousands of requests it received annually, and that established process was followed by the Secretary and her staff throughout her tenure.”

Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat who has endorsed Clinton, slammed what he called “systemic problems” in complying with FOIA requests at the State Department.

“The Department must correct these problems with the urgency and seriousness they deserve in order to comply with existing law,” said Leahy, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in a statement.

Senator Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican who chairs the committee, said “the department should explain to the courts and to the public why those inaccurate declarations were filed.”

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