WASHINGTON – The State Department has delivered only seven of nearly 70 pages of documents that a federal judge identified as potentially responsive to an Associated Press request for documents relating to Hillary Rodham Clinton's hiring of longtime aide Huma Abedin as a special government contract staffer.
The department's response contained only five email documents, two of them partially censored.
Meanwhile, government lawyers asked another federal judge to delay releasing thousands of pages of documents, sought by news media and legal and political organizations, from Clinton's tenure as secretary of state until January 2016.
The State Department's request to delay its release of emails and other Clinton-related documents raised the prospect that significant information about her tenure as secretary of state might not surface until after early Democratic Party presidential nomination contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Impatient with years of previous delays from the State Department over requests by the AP for emails and documents from Clinton and several of her top aides, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon set a strict schedule for release of the material last month. It included an order to deliver to the AP all uncensored portions of an estimated 68 pages of documents related to Abedin by Tuesday. The AP sued the State Department last March because of delays stretching back to 2013 in the news agency's efforts to obtain documents about Clinton's diplomatic stint under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.
In a letter written along with the seven pages of documents, a State Department official writing for John Hackett, the agency's director of information programs and services, said only that searches of the department's Central Policy Records and Office of Public Affairs "did not result in the retrieval of responsive material." The official did not explain why the material was unresponsive or cite any specific national security or privacy concerns that prompted the withholding of the documents cited by the judge.
The official said further searches were still ongoing in other agency offices. The government's response also did not say whether it was searching the files of former Clinton aides, as the AP had requested in the FOIA request cited in the March lawsuit.
State Department spokesman Alec Gerlach declined to comment, saying the agency will not comment on cases in litigation.
In August, Leon gave the State Department 30 days to produce records regarding Abedin, which he noted "have been estimated to be approximately 68 pages in total." Leon ordered the agency to deliver, between this month and March 2016, thousands more pages that include Clinton's schedules, the department's oversight of military contractor BAE Systems and emailed references to surveillance and counterterrorism programs.
In a deposition filed in July, Hackett said the government would have to review and process more than 22,000 pages of material in connection with the AP lawsuit.
Government lawyers cautioned in a filing in a separate court case against the State Department that the agency's resources for processing requests for Clinton-related files "are strained to the limit." Justice Department lawyers working on behalf of the State Department said more than 16,500 new requests for Clinton-related files have been filed since September 2014 and there are now 87 court challenges pending in federal courts.
The department urged U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras to give it until January 2016 to schedule the release of the records. The judge had ordered it to begin producing those emails by Sept. 1, but the deadline passed with none released. Contreras rejected a previous State Department plan to release the documents in January.
Both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary are scheduled in early February. Under the proposed State Department schedule, it is not clear whether any documents would be released before then, and it could take months more to process and release them.
The State Department's latest push to delay release of the Clinton-related emails came as an agency spokesman said Wednesday there was no conflict of interest in the decision to appoint a retired diplomat, Janice Jacobs, to oversee the State Department's handling of information requests even though she had made a $2,700 donation to Clinton's presidential campaign in June.
"We understand how some people might have that perception," State Department spokesman John Kirby said, referring to Secretary of State John Kerry's decision to appoint Jacobs to lead the agency's overwhelmed information-processing staff. He added, "Ambassador Jacobs was chosen for her exemplary service, particularly in this kind of area, and the secretary is 100 percent convinced that she's the right person for the job."
Kirby acknowledged that the department was unaware of Jacobs' donation to Clinton before Kerry selected her.
Kirby said U.S. law does not prohibit current or former federal employees from contributing to political candidates, although he acknowledged that part of her new job will be to make judgments about releasing records that could portray Clinton in a negative light. Jacobs was chosen, he added, based on her past performance in overseeing hidebound bureaucracies. He said she was instrumental in revamping the U.S. visa application system in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks. Besides hiring Jacobs, Kirby said, Kerry has also ordered the transfer of 50 State Department officials to join the beleaguered information staff in processing records requests.
The State Department is in the process of analyzing and releasing at least 30,000 work-related emails that Clinton turned over after she acknowledged earlier this year that as secretary of state between 2009 and 2013, she exclusively used a private computer server and private email addresses to communicate with other federal officials and intimates.