Judicial Watch| Judicial Watch today announced that U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson has ordered the U.S. Department of State to turn over to Judicial Watch “eight identical paragraphs” of previously redact material in two September 13, 2012, Hillary Clinton emails regarding phone calls made by President Barack Obama to Egyptian and Libyan leaders immediately following the terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. Both emails had the subject line “Quick Summary of POTUS Calls to Presidents of Libya and Egypt” and were among the emails stored on Clinton’s unofficial email server. Judge Jackson reviewed the documents directly and rejected the government’s contention that the records had been properly withheld under the FOIA B(5) “deliberative process” exemption.
Judge Jackson ruled: “the two records, even if just barely predecisional, are not deliberative. [The State Department] has pointed to very little to support its characterization of these two records as deliberative, and the Court’s in camera review of the documents reveals that they do not fall within that category.”
The full emails may reveal what former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama knew about the September 11, 2012, terror attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.
Following Judge Jackson’s March 20 ruling, the State Department asked the court to reconsider. The State Department argued that, due to an internal “mistake,” it failed to claim that the emails were classified and, therefore, exempt from production under FOIA Exemption B(1).
In response, Judicial Watch argues that the failure was not a mistake, but instead was part of a deliberate effort by the State Department to protect Clinton and the agency by avoiding identifying emails on Clinton’s unofficial, non-secure email server as classified.
Judicial Watch’s filing cites an interview of an FBI employee who told federal investigators that top State Department official Patrick Kennedy pressured the FBI to keep Clinton’s emails unclassified. The employee told the FBI he “believes STATE ha[d] an agenda which involves minimizing the classified nature of the CLINTON emails in order to protect STATE interests and those of CLINTON.”
Judicial Watch’s filing also cites an interview of a State Department employee who told the FBI that the State Department’s Office of Legal Counsel interfered with the FOIA processing of email from Secretary Clinton’s server, instructing reviewers to use Exemption B(5) (deliberative process exemption) instead of Exemption B(1) (classified information exemption). According to the FBI interview:
STATE’s Near East Affairs Bureau upgraded several of CLINTON’s emails to a classified level with a B(1) release exemption . [Redacted], along with [Redacted] attorney, Office of Legal Counsel, called STATE’s Near East Affairs Bureau and told them they could use a B(5) exemption on a upgraded email to protect it instead of the B(1) exemption. However, the use of the B(5) exemption, which is usually used for executive privilege-related information, was incorrect as the information actually was classified and related to national security, which would be a B(1) exemption. Read more . H/T