House GOP Wants to Withhold State Dept. Money Over Hillary Clinton Emails, FOIA Problems

Republicans hope to use the appropriations process to ensure every State employee preserves records.

Hillary Clinton arrives to speak on September 12, 2012 on the killing of US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and 3 staff members at the US Consulate building in Benghazi, Libya, from the Treaty Room of the US Department of State, in Washington, DC.
National Journal
June 2, 2015, 8:17 a.m.

House Re­pub­lic­ans want to block a chunk of State De­part­ment fund­ing as lever­age to en­sure com­pli­ance with re­cords-pre­ser­va­tion rules and force faster dis­clos­ure of doc­u­ments to Con­gress.

The plan un­veiled today opens a new front in polit­ic­al battles over Hil­lary Clin­ton’s use of a private email serv­er and the Re­pub­lic­an probe of the 2012 Benghazi at­tacks.

The GOP’s fisc­al 2016 for­eign op­er­a­tions fund­ing bill holds back 15 per­cent of fund­ing for State dip­lo­mat­ic pro­grams un­til the de­part­ment shows com­pli­ance with fed­er­al laws and policies con­cern­ing pre­ser­va­tion of emails and oth­er re­cords.

Jen­nifer Hing, a spokes­wo­man for Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee Re­pub­lic­ans, said con­cerns over Clin­ton’s private email ar­range­ment are “re­lated,” but the lan­guage stems from “broad­er con­cern over re­cords.”

The bill says State must show that it has dir­ec­ted em­ploy­ees “at every level” to en­sure that “doc­u­ment­a­tion of their of­fi­cial du­ties is cap­tured, pre­served, man­aged, pro­tec­ted, and ac­cess­ible in of­fi­cial Gov­ern­ment sys­tems.”

It also re­quires State to en­sure that “all de­part­ing em­ploy­ees at every level have been dir­ec­ted that all Fed­er­al re­cords gen­er­ated by em­ploy­ees, in­clud­ing seni­or of­fi­cials, be­long to the De­part­ment.”

The bill also re­quires also State to im­ple­ment a plan to cut the back­log of re­quests for re­cords from Con­gress and un­der the Free­dom of In­form­a­tion Act, and speed up re­sponse times.

Hing con­firmed that this lan­guage is linked to what the Se­lect Com­mit­tee on Benghazi al­leges has been an in­ad­equate re­sponse to its re­cords re­quest and sub­poena. The pan­el is seek­ing doc­u­ments that in­clude emails from Clin­ton’s top aides at State.

The for­eign op­er­a­tions fund­ing bill is only at the start of a long pro­cess; it will be marked up in sub­com­mit­tee Wed­nes­day. The coun­ter­part Sen­ate pan­el has not yet re­leased its bill, and it’s un­clear when any ap­pro­pri­ations meas­ure will ac­tu­ally get signed in­to law amid par­tis­an squab­bling over spend­ing caps.

Re­cent weeks have brought signs that House ap­pro­pri­at­ors would try and use the power of the purse to push State on the Benghazi probe. A May 8 re­port from the Se­lect Com­mit­tee said the House should “con­sider mo­tiv­at­ing the Ex­ec­ut­ive Branch through the ap­pro­pri­ations pro­cess.”

Clin­ton, the front-run­ner for the Demo­crat­ic White House nom­in­a­tion, turned over 55,000 pages of emails to the State De­part­ment in Decem­ber, and State will be­gin re­leas­ing them in batches start­ing in late June un­der an or­der from a fed­er­al judge.

But Clin­ton also de­leted emails deemed per­son­al in nature, an­ger­ing Re­pub­lic­ans who say this makes it im­possible to know wheth­er the of­fi­cial re­cord from her time at State is com­plete. Clin­ton’s team says there was a thor­ough re­view.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, chair­man of the Se­lect Com­mit­tee on Benghazi, said pan­el Re­pub­lic­ans were get­ting fed up with the State De­part­ment’s slow re­sponses to doc­u­ment re­quests. “The ex­plan­a­tions and ex­cuses for non-com­pli­ance are tired and un­per­suas­ive. Re­gret­tably it some­times takes money to get agen­cies’ at­ten­tion,” Gowdy said in a state­ment.

But Rep. Eli­jah Cum­mings, the top Demo­crat on the Benghazi pan­el, said in his own state­ment that the GOP-run com­mit­tee was it­self to blame for any delays, ac­cus­ing the ma­jor­ity of de­lib­er­ately drag­ging out the pro­cess to em­bar­rass Clin­ton.

“It makes no sense to cut the De­part­ment’s budget while con­tinu­ing to give the Se­lect Com­mit­tee a blank check,” Cum­mings said.

This art­icle has been up­dated.

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