UPDATED at 10:25am with press release from Judicial Watch (see below story)
A federal judge is ordering the State Department to reinvestigate the emails Hillary Clinton wrote about the Benghazi attack in 2012.
U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta ruled that the State Department had not done enough to try to track down messages Clinton may have sent about the assault on the U.S. diplomatic compound on Sept. 11, 2012, which left four Americans dead, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya.
“In response to Freedom of Information Act requests, State searched the roughly 30,000 messages Clinton turned over to her former agency at its request in December 2014 after officials searching for Benghazi-related records realized she had used a personal email account during her four-year tenure as secretary.
State later searched tens of thousands of emails handed over to the agency by three former top aides to Clinton: Huma Abedin, Cheryl Mills and Jake Sullivan. Finally, State searched a collection of emails the FBI assembled when it was investigating Clinton’s use of the private account and server.
In all, State found 348 Benghazi-related messages or documents that were sent to or from Clinton in a period of nearly five months after the attack.”
However, Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group attempting to hold Clinton accountable, argued that the search wasn’t efficient enough because the State Department never tried to search its own systems for relevant messages in the official email accounts of Clinton’s top aides.
Surprisingly, Mehta, who is an Obama appointee, agreed with Judicial Watch’s claim and issued the following 10-page ruling:
“To date, State has searched only data compilations originating from outside sources — Secretary Clinton, her former aides, and the FBI. … It has not, however, searched 8 the one records system over which it has always had control and that is almost certain to contain some responsive records: the state.gov e-mail server.
“If Secretary Clinton sent an e-mail about Benghazi to Abedin, Mills, or Sullivan at his or her state.gov e-mail address, or if one of them sent an e-mail to Secretary Clinton using his or her state.gov account, then State’s server presumably would have captured and stored such an e-mail. Therefore, State has an obligation to search its own server for responsive records.”
Justice Department lawyers representing the State Department argued that making them search other employees’ accounts for Clinton’s emails would set a negative precedent that would hinder other FOIA searches. But Mehta disagreed, and said the circumstances surrounding Clinton’s email represented “a specific fact pattern unlikely to arise in the future.”
THE OFFICIAL RELEASE FROM JUDICIAL WATCH
(Washington, DC) — Judicial Watch announced that on August 8, 2017, D.C. District Court Judge Amit P. Mehta ordered the State Department State “to search the state.gov e-mail accounts of Huma Abedin, Cheryl Mills, and Jacob Sullivan,” former aides of Hillary Clinton during her tenure as Secretary of State. The State Department is ordered to search in those accounts “for records responsive to [Judicial Watch’s] March 4, 2015, FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] request.” (A separate Judicial Watch FOIA lawsuit first broke open the Clinton email scandal.)
Judge Mehta described Judicial Watch’s Clinton Benghazi FOIA lawsuit as “a far cry from a typical FOIA case. Secretary Clinton used a private e-mail server, located in her home, to transmit and receive work-related communications during her tenure as Secretary of State.” Further:
[I]f an e-mail did not involve any state.gov user, the message would have passed through only the Secretary’s private server and, therefore, would be beyond the immediate reach of State. Because of this circumstance, unlike the ordinary case, State could not look solely to its own records systems to adequately respond to [Judicial Watch’s] demand.
[The State Department] has not, however, searched the one records system over which it has always had control and that is almost certain to contain some responsive records: the state.gov e-mail server. If Secretary Clinton sent an e-mail about Benghazi to Abedin, Mills, or Sullivan at his or her state.gov e-mail address, or if one of them sent an e-mail to Secretary Clinton using his or her state.gov account, then State’s server presumably would have captured and stored such an e-mail. Therefore, State has an obligation to search its own server for responsive records.
State has offered no assurance that the three record compilations it received [from Secretary Clinton and her aides], taken together, constitute the entirety of Secretary Clinton’s e-mails during the time period relevant to Plaintiff’s FOIA Request. Absent such assurance, the court is unconvinced “beyond material doubt” that a search of the state.gov accounts of Abedin, Mills and Sullivan is “unlikely to produce any marginal return.”
Accordingly, the court finds that State has not met its burden of establishing it performed an adequate search in response to Plaintiff’s FOIA Request and orders State to conduct a supplemental search of the state.gov e-mail accounts of Abedin, Mills, and Sullivan.
“This major court ruling may finally result in more answers about the Benghazi scandal – and Hillary Clinton’s involvement in it – as we approach the attack’s fifth anniversary,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “It is remarkable that we had to battle both the Obama and Trump administrations to break through the State Department’s Benghazi stonewall. Why are Secretary Tillerson and Attorney General Sessions wasting taxpayer dollars protecting Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration?”
Judicial Watch asked a federal court to compel the Trump State Department to undertake a thorough search of all emails of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding the terrorist attack on Benghazi, including those of Clinton’s closest advisors. Judicial Watch also specifically asked the court to compel the agency to produce all records of communications between Clinton and top aide Jake Sullivan relating to Ambassador Susan Rice’s appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” the Sunday following the 2012 Benghazi massacre.
The State Department has until September 22, 2017, to update the court on the status of the supplemental search and production of additional emails to Judicial Watch.
On May 6, 2015, Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit when the State Department failed to respond to a March 4, 2015, FOIA request (Judicial Watch, Inc. v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:15-cv-00692)), seeking:
- All emails of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton relating to the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
- The timeframe for this request is September 11, 2012 to January 31, 2013.
ABOUT JUDICIAL WATCH
Judicial Watch, Inc., a conservative, non-partisan educational foundation, promotes transparency, accountability and integrity in government, politics and the law. Through its educational endeavors, Judicial Watch advocates high standards of ethics and morality in our nation’s public life and seeks to ensure that political and judicial officials do not abuse the powers entrusted to them by the American people. Judicial Watch fulfills its educational mission through litigation, investigations, and public outreach.
The motto of Judicial Watch is “Because no one is above the law”. To this end, Judicial Watch uses the open records or freedom of information laws and other tools to investigate and uncover misconduct by government officials and litigation to hold to account politicians and public officials who engage in corrupt activities.
Litigation and the civil discovery process not only uncover information for the education of the American people on anti-corruption issues, but can also provide a basis for civil authorities to criminally prosecute corrupt officials. Judicial Watch seeks to ensure high ethical standards in the judiciary through monitoring activities and the use of the judicial ethics process to hold judges to account.
Judicial Watch’s investigation, legal, and judicial activities provide the basis for strong educational outreach to the American people. Judicial Watch’s public education programs include speeches, opinion editorials (op-eds), publications, educational conferences, media outreach, radio and news television appearances, and direct radio outreach through informational commercials and public service announcements.
Through its Open Records Project, Judicial Watch also provides training and legal services to other conservatives concerning how to effectively use the Freedom of Information Act and other open records laws to achieve conservative goals of accountability and openness in government.
Through its publication The Verdict and occasional special reports, Judicial Watch educates the public about abuses and misconduct by political and judicial officials, and advocates for the need for an ethical, law abiding and moral civic culture.
Judicial Watch also pursues this educational effort through this Internet site where many of the open records documents, legal filings, and other educational materials are made available to the public and media. This educational effort, which includes direct mailings to millions of Americans, educates the public about operations of government and the judiciary and increases public awareness if corruption and misconduct exists.
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