Obama Expands Access to Federal Records, Requests 27-Month Delay in Releasing Hillary’s Emails
President Obama signed a law vastly expanding public access to government records yesterday. In other news . . . .
The juxtaposition of two stories that came out within an hour of each other last evening at The Hill struck me as odd.
President Obama on Thursday signed into law a bill to strengthen the government’s open records laws.
The legislation to update the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) made it over the finish line after years of delays, which were partly blamed on behind-the-scenes opposition in the administration.The changes would put the force of law into a 2009 Obama directive urging agencies to err on the side of disclosure when handling open records requests.
The White House called the legislation “critical” and said it will institutionalize “principles and actions that the president has promoted since his first full day in office.”
The administration will issue new FOIA guidance later this year, and the White House committed to having a centralized request portal by next year. The White House said a group of FOIA advisers will meet next month to discuss the lingering challenges to the process.
Journalists, researchers and Congress have all criticized the current system, which often results in agencies delaying requests for years and many times requires litigation to finally dislodge the federal records.
The new law codifies a so-called presumption of openness, which critics say executive agencies have not lived up to despite Obama’s directive. Under the new provisions, agencies would have to point to a specific “foreseeable harm” when withholding documents.
The Obama administration on Thursday asked a federal court to delay until October 2018 the release of 14,000 pages of emails from aides to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In a court filing on Wednesday, administration lawyers said the State Department miscalculated the amount of material it would need to process the documents as part of a lawsuit with the conservative organization Citizens United.As a result, the government asked for a 27-month delay to release the emails, which were originally due out on July 21.
“State deeply regrets these errors, and is working diligently to correct them as quickly as possible,” the lawyers said.
Citizens United has sued for emails between a handful of State Department officials and people at the Clinton Foundation and a consulting firm, Teneo Consulting, which has ties to the Clintons.
Among other errors, State officials said than an initial test looking at just 300 emails, which was used to calculate the amount of time necessary to process the emails, neglected to include keyword searches of the messages. Instead, they only searched the “To” and “From” lines of the messages, which failed to catch many emails.
State Department officials also “inadvertently” labeled some email attachments as irrelevant to the open records request, without checking them to make sure.
The contrast here is stunning. The president signed a law codifying the presumption that the public has the right to see documents produced by its government unless there is a specific harm in releasing them on the same day as it filed a request to not release documents for more than two years?!
The vast amount of mail that circulated to and from then-Secretary Clinton’s private email server was substantial and tracking it all down and properly vetting it is challenging. That’s among the reasons that government officials are supposed to use their government accounts for official business! Still, they’ve already had months to achieve that task and, given that Clinton is now the presumptive Democratic nominee for president and that there is a criminal investigation surrounding this case, it’s certainly is in the public interest to expedite the disclosures.
Frankly, it’s likely in Clinton’s interest as well. She’s been getting hammered by speculation about and slow drips from the content of these emails since the beginning of the campaign. The story reinforces the “corrupt Hillary” meme that Donald Trump is pushing. Meanwhile, minor events like yesterday’s reported meeting between the Attorney General and former President Clinton become mini-scandals. The administration should absolutely make it a top priority to release the documents and conclude the ongoing investigation as quickly as possible.