State: We’re “Strained to the Limit” With Clinton Emails

The department says it need to shift massive resources to deal with a big FOIA backlog and the remaining unreleased messages from Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary.

The ongoing review and release of roughly 30,000 messages that former Secretary of State HIllary Clinton turned over to the department are consuming a “significant portion” of State’s Freedom of Information Act processing resources, a court filing stated.
Chip Somodevilla AFP/Getty
Ben Geman
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Ben Geman
Sept. 9, 2015, 3:20 p.m.

The State De­part­ment of­fice tasked with the time-de­vour­ing chore of sift­ing through thou­sands of Hil­lary Clin­ton’s emails needs re­in­force­ments.

Badly.

In a court fil­ing Tues­day, State said its Free­dom of In­form­a­tion Act of­fice is “strained to the lim­it” amid the “enorm­ous un­der­tak­ing” of vet­ting Clin­ton’s mes­sages for pub­lic re­lease and sim­ul­tan­eously deal­ing with a huge in­flux of new re­quests over the past year.

The fil­ing is part of a law­suit by Vice News re­port­er Jason Leo­pold, whose case has be­gun pry­ing loose Clin­ton’s mes­sages but is also seek­ing emails of sev­er­al of her former top aides.

Ac­cord­ing to Tues­day’s fil­ing, State had nearly 11,000 FOIA re­quests pending at the end of fisc­al year 2014, and since then over 16,500 new re­quests have poured in.

The on­go­ing re­view and re­lease of roughly 30,000 mes­sages that Clin­ton turned over to the de­part­ment, which State is re­leas­ing in monthly batches un­der a judge’s or­der, are con­sum­ing a “sig­ni­fic­ant por­tion” of State’s FOIA pro­cessing re­sources, the fil­ing states.

But help is on the way.

Re­u­ters re­por­ted Tues­day night that State hopes to move about 50 work­ers from else­where in the de­part­ment in­to the FOIA of­fice to deal with the back­log in pub­lic-re­cords re­quests.

“The ex­tra staff will not work on the monthly, court-ordered re­lease of Clin­ton emails, which are be­ing handled by about 20 per­man­ent and 30 part-time work­ers, of­fi­cials said. The new staff will fill in for those work­ers and may also handle oth­er Clin­ton FOIA re­quests,” Re­u­ters re­ports.

The news ser­vice ob­tained a Sept. 2 State De­part­ment no­tice to em­ploy­ees seek­ing people with skills that in­clude the abil­ity to de­cide what in­form­a­tion may be de­clas­si­fied and re­leased.

A State De­part­ment of­fi­cial, con­firm­ing the plan, told Na­tion­al Journ­al that State’s FOIA case­load has in­creased more than 300 per­cent since 2008.

“In an ef­fort to meet these in­creas­ing de­mands, the de­part­ment is act­ively adding ad­di­tion­al staff to our FOIA of­fice team. These ad­di­tion­al staff mem­bers will work on a range of dif­fer­ent FOIA re­quests. We be­lieve this is a wise and prudent step to pro­mote trans­par­ency and re­spons­ive­ness,” the of­fi­cial said.

State also an­nounced Tues­day that Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry has named Janice Jac­obs, a former seni­or de­part­ment of­fi­cial, to the new job of “trans­par­ency co­ordin­at­or,” where she’ll work on “im­prov­ing our sys­tems for re­spond­ing to Free­dom of In­form­a­tion Act and con­gres­sion­al re­quests faster and more ef­fi­ciently.”

However, State found it­self on the de­fens­ive over the choice of Jac­obs when re­ports sur­faced that she donated $2,700 to Clin­ton’s pres­id­en­tial cam­paign in June.

Jac­obs, asked about the dona­tion by the As­so­ci­ated Press, noted she was re­tired at the time and did not ex­pect to re­join the de­part­ment.

But Re­pub­lic­ans re­main skep­tic­al that she is the right per­son for the job.

“Put­ting a maxed out Clin­ton donor in charge of over­see­ing the pro­cess of re­leas­ing her emails doesn’t just give the ap­pear­ance of a con­flict of in­terest, it is one,” said Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee spokes­man Mi­chael Short.

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