A top House Republican on Thursday accused Hillary Clinton of making a "mess" of records management when she led the State Department, frustrating legitimate requests for information from Congress, the media and the public.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said at a hearing that Clinton "conveniently created" a chaotic system that is costing millions of dollars to repair. As an example, Chaffetz, R-Utah, noted that The Associated Press had to go to court to obtain all the detailed planning schedules from Clinton's four-year tenure as the nation's top diplomat.
Committee Democrats said the hearing was an attack on Clinton's presidential bid, not an attempt to improve record-keeping management at the department.
Patrick Kennedy, undersecretary of state for management, told the committee the agency is improving its records management but continues to struggle with the heavy volume of open-records requests it receives.
Republicans are focusing on Clinton with a series of hearings on her email practices in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 8 election. Last year, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., credited the House's Benghazi, Libya, investigation with wounding Clinton's public standing. That $7 million, two-year investigation into the deadly 2012 attacks found no wrongdoing by Clinton.
Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the committee's top Democrat, argued that Clinton's actions were hardly unprecedented and deserving of the heightened scrutiny. Cummings underscored his argument by releasing a 2009 email exchange in which former Secretary of State Colin Powell advised Clinton on the use of personal email. The exchange occurred two days after Clinton was sworn in as secretary of state.
Powell wrote that he had "a personal computer that was hooked up to a private phone line ... so I could communicate with a wide range of friends directly without it going through the State Department servers."
Powell said he "even used it to do business with some foreign leaders."
Cummings said the email exchange, which he released Wednesday night, showed Powell gave Clinton "a detailed blueprint on how to skirt security rules and bypass requirements to preserve federal records," although he said Clinton has made clear that she did not rely on his advice.
The State Department agreed last week to turn over all the detailed planning schedules from Hillary Clinton's time as secretary of state to the AP by mid-October. The decision came more than a year after the AP sued the State Department in federal court to obtain the material. The AP filed Freedom of Information Act requests in 2010 and 2013 for the records, but the State Department did not release the material.
Chaffetz said he was stunned that it would be so difficult to obtain what seemed to be relatively benign records. He told Kennedy that as chairman of committee, he also wanted to get copies of the documents.
Kennedy described the AP's requests for the planning schedules as part of "a larger swath of six requests that we were engaged in" for the material, further stressing an already under-resourced system.
"That's why we are being sued," Kennedy said. "There are true resource and time and other issues that have to be dealt with here."
But the original request for Clinton's schedules filed by the AP in 2010 was not part of a larger batch of requests. In 2014, a year after the second open-records request had been submitted, the AP appealed to State to find out why there had been no response to its requests.