08/09/2016 – Politico
Republicans have opened a new attack front in the legal war over the release of State Department emails: a battle to open up thousands of pages of schedules for former President Bill Clinton.
However the clock is ticking down on the GOP’s hopes to use the trove of details on Clinton’s post-presidency against his wife, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, before the November election.
The records turned up recently in response to a broad-ranging Republican National Committee Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for all emails between various aides to Hillary Clinton during her four-year tenure as secretary of state and certain private Web domains used by the Clinton’s, the Clinton Foundation and related organizations.
State turned over 14 pages of heavily redacted Bill Clinton schedules to the RNC in June amid a smattering of other records. Just about the only substantive information left in the daily calendars for the former president were weather forecasts for the Clinton’s’ home in Chappaqua, New York.
Last week, the State Department acknowledged that the 14 pages are only the tip of the iceberg: an estimated 5,400 pages of Bill Clinton schedules are due to be processed for release to the GOP — more than half the records covered by the suit.
A spokesman for the former president declined to comment on the unfolding legal dispute over the release of his schedules.
State revealed the existence of the large collection of Bill Clinton schedules after the RNC made an unusual legal move last month, asking a federal judge to declare that the former president’s schedules should be released in their entirety because the former president worked closely with State officials and his post-presidency office is funded with taxpayer dollars. The GOP also pointed to the ethical controversy over the Clinton Foundation soliciting donations abroad while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state.
“The record … reflects that State Department officials and Clinton Foundation officials worked essentially hand in glove, coordinating President Clinton’s schedule and whom he would speak with, as well as talking points and even briefings with regard to political ramifications of certain meetings or events,” wrote Jason Torchinsky, an attorney for the RNC. “The electronic calendar records at issue here merely are a function of, and inextricably intertwined with, that coordinated effort with the federal agency officials.”
While the thousands of pages of Bill Clinton’s schedules could provide ample fodder for opposition researchers at the RNC, it’s uncertain whether the GOP will get its hands on many of them before the November election. The RNC suit is one of dozens trying to pry records out of State before the election. In order to try to manage the burden on the strained agency, judges have limited the volume of records the agency is required to process in specific cases,
In the suit in which the Bill Clinton schedules are now in dispute, State is obliged to process only 500 pages per month. The agency usually also has discretion over what order the records are processed in, something that could slow release of the schedules even further.
However, the ex-president’s schedules are also popping up in responses to the dozens of other pending suits and FOIA requests. In fact, about 1,000 pages of the heavily redacted Bill Clinton schedules showed up at POLITICO’s offices Monday, apparently in response to a more-than-six-year-old request for information on ethics approvals for the former president’s speeches.
Notes on those copies of the schedules say they were processed for release to the conservative group Judicial Watch, which filed suit in 2013, seeking State records related to former President Clinton.
Notations on the few schedules turned over to the RNC show they were redacted almost entirely on privacy grounds. Small sections were deleted for law enforcement reasons, perhaps relating to Secret Service arrangements.
The schedules released to POLITICO and Judicial Watch appear to have been scrubbed even more thoroughly. The vast majority of pages say in a large font, “Page Denied.” A handful of pages note that the schedules cover holidays, like Labor Day, Earth Day, Easter and Father’s Day.
The only schedule for the former president that is coherent in its released form is a side-by-side rundown on a day in October 2012 when both Clinton’s visited Haiti, However even in that schedule a portion of the former president’s activities was redacted.
Last month, the RNC asked a federal judge to declare that the schedules should be released without any deletions. The GOP motion ridicules the notion that Bill Clinton’s daily agenda should be withheld for privacy reasons.
“With respect to this former president, because of the unprecedented intersection of federal government policy issues and ethical questions surrounding the Clinton Foundation, the State Department’s extensive interest in the Clinton Foundation’s activities while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State is well documented,” Torchinsky wrote. “The idea that former President Clinton’s actions purely were or are those of a private citizen defies the imagination.”
“Given the well-documented conflicts of interest for the Clinton State Department posed by his paid speeches and corrupt family foundation, the notion that Bill Clinton’s schedule should be off-limits from scrutiny is ridiculous,” RNC spokesman Rajiv Shah added Monday.
Still, getting the schedules released in their entirety seems like a long shot. Even Hillary Clinton’s official schedules, released in other FOIA lawsuits, contain numerous redaction’s on privacy grounds.
The RNC move also jumps the gun on the usual process in FOIA litigation in which documents are processed and released, then the two sides’ battle over those that were withheld or redacted. Justice Department lawyers representing State already asked U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg to put the GOP motion on hold until State finishes processing the records, which could be sometime next year or the year after.
A DOJ filing submitted last week says the Bill Clinton schedules are not being redacted in bulk and allowing the GOP to challenge the privacy claims now would “short-circuit” the typical process.
“Any redaction’s State has made to the calendars in producing them to RNC have been made on an individualized, line-by-line basis, negating any reason to litigate those redaction’s now based on only 14 pages. The Court should deny RNC’s motion as premature,” DOJ lawyer Jean-Michel Voltaire wrote. He said State could find some of the former president’s appointments to be releasable after balancing the public and privacy interests involved, but so far has not.
State’s submission to Boasberg last Thursday did not indicate that the agency has released or was about to release a large chunk of the schedules in nearly full-redacted form in other FOIA cases. Most of the records released to POLITICO recently are stamped as having been cleared for release in June. The letter transmitting them was dated Friday.
Boasberg, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, declined State’s initial request to stay the GOP motion pressing the issue. However, the judge has not scheduled a hearing on the matter.
Based on the email distribution lists, Bill Clinton’s schedules appear to have circulated regularly to dozens of people. A handful of them were State Department officials, including Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills, Deputy Chief of Staff Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton scheduler Lona Valmoro, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Communications Philippe Reines and Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro.
The GOP FOIA request, submitted last December by RNC Director of Investigations Scott Parker, seeks all emails exchanged between 14 senior State Department officials and 12 outside Web domains associated with the Clinton’s, the Clinton Foundation and a consulting firm with close ties to the Clinton’s, Teneo Holdings.