WASHINGTON – A judge on Wednesday chided a State Department official for the department's slowness in responding to Associated Press requests for documents from Hillary Clinton's tenure as secretary of state.
The AP sued in March after the department failed to satisfy repeated document requests filed under the Freedom of Information Act, including one made five years ago.
In a court hearing arising from the lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon appeared incredulous at times about the amount of time it was taking and suggested the government should be able to move much faster in turning over thousands of pages of documents.
Under questioning, John Hackett, the head of the State Department's FOIA operations, said the department was working to satisfy the document demands while processing thousands of others requests and coping with limited staff resources. But Leon on several occasions appeared unsatisfied with the responses.
He said one of the categories of records being sought — 68 pages of documents related to a former top Clinton aide — could be processed within a matter of days "by the least ambitious bureaucrat." And he suggested that the State Department should be quicker in processing AP requests for Clinton's schedules and calendars.
"It's just schedules and calendars," Leon said. "It's not detailed memos or position papers or policy papers or anything like that."
A State Department lawyer said the agency was prepared to release many of the records by the end of the calendar year. But Leon said that schedule didn't seem "anywhere near aggressive enough," and suggested that he might come up with a court order that would require a faster document production.
He requested additional information from the State Department and said he planned another hearing.
"Since The Associated Press filed its lawsuit against the State Department last March to force the release of emails and government documents from Hillary Rodham Clinton's tenure as secretary of state, the point of our litigation and legal strategy has been to get this important information released to the public as quickly as possible," said Paul Colford, AP vice president and director of media relations. "We remain committed to our fight for this material."
The records being sought by AP include copies of Clinton's full schedule and calendars from her four years as secretary of state; correspondence with key aides; emails concerning the Osama bin Laden raid and government surveillance practices; and documents related to her role overseeing a major Defense Department contractor. The AP has said interest in the emails is "undeniable" and that their release could shed light on critical government matters as Clinton pursues the Democratic presidential nomination.
The AP made most of its requests in the summer of 2013, although one was filed in March 2010. AP is also seeking attorney's fees related to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit was filed after Clinton acknowledged having sent and received about 60,000 emails from her personal email address in her four years on the job. She said roughly half were work-related, which she turned over to the State Department, and that she had deleted tens of thousands more that she said were personal in nature.
The AP had sought Clinton-related correspondence before her use of a personal email account was publicly known, although the lawsuit alleges that the State Department is responsible for including emails from that account in any public records request.