During former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s tenure at the State Department, her political staff personally reviewed and negotiated the release of public records requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) — and in some cases blocked documents' release, according to The Wall Street Journal
A Journal investigation found there existed a culture of "delay and inefficiency" at the State Department.
Clinton’s disclosure of public records has made headlines since the revelation earlier this year that as secretary of state she exclusively used a private account and server housed in her New York home to conduct State Department business.
The disclosure came during the ongoing investigation
into what Clinton knew, and when, about the deaths of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012.
Clinton maintains that she has turned over everything she is legally required to, and has refused to allow an independent third party to review tens of thousands of emails contained on her private server, arguing they are "personal" in nature.
Clinton’s staff began scrutinizing documents related to the controversial Keystone XL pipeline after a group that opposes it, called Friends of the Earth, obtained emails sent by a U.S. embassy official in Ottawa to Paul Elliott, a lobbyist for the company seeking to build the pipeline who worked on Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, according to the Journal.
Friends of the Earth suspected that Elliott's connection provided him insider influence with the State Department. Ottawa’s U.S. embassy is part of the State Department.
Friends of the Earth had earlier obtained an email from the embassy official to Elliott congratulating him on potentially good news about the pipeline plan, according to the Journal, something Friends of the Earth interpreted as bias.
After that, Clinton’s chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, personally reviewed requests from the State Department for Keystone-related documents, the Journal reports, and disclosures "fell off sharply."
"After the episode, Ms. Mills insisted on reviewing all Keystone-related documents being prepared for release, and flagged as problematic a few that the department’s records-law specialists felt obligated to release," the Journal reports, citing a "person with knowledge of the situation."
"Ms. Mills, this person added," the Journal added, "told a records specialist that if he released records she wanted held back, Mrs. Clinton’s office wouldn’t comply with any future document requests on any topic."
Two people with knowledge of State Department records procedures told the newspaper that political appointees had greater sway than public records experts in determining what documents to release.
Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill has maintained that Mills, who also sits on the board of the Clinton Foundation — "did not inappropriately interfere with the FOIA process" and "has spent her career contributing to the greater good."
Another State Department spokesman added that the only documents withheld are those that are exempt under federal public records law, because of a perceived threat to national security, trade-secret exposure or privacy violations.
In March, The Associated Press sued
the State Department to force the release of emails and government documents during Clinton's time as secretary of state. Over the course of some five years, the AP filed repeated requests for documents under the FOIA that have gone unfulfilled.
On Tuesday, a federal judge ordered a rolling release of some 55,000 emails Clinton provided to the State Department, correspondence she and her team deemed "official business."
The State Department had previously said it would release them in January 2016.
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