Politics

Clinton emails: AP sues State Department for access, fact-checks former secretary of state

Hillary Clinton attends the Step It Up For Gender Equality event celebrating the 20th anniversary of the fourth World Conference On Women in Beijing at Hammerstein Ballroom on March 10, 2015 in New York City. Clinton has come under fire after it was revealed she had used her personal email account almost exclusively during her tenure as U.S. secretary of state.
Hillary Clinton attends the Step It Up For Gender Equality event celebrating the 20th anniversary of the fourth World Conference On Women in Beijing at Hammerstein Ballroom on March 10, 2015 in New York City. Clinton has come under fire after it was revealed she had used her personal email account almost exclusively during her tenure as U.S. secretary of state.
Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

Fact-checking Hillary Clinton »

The Associated Press filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the State Department to force the release of email correspondence and government documents from Hillary Rodham Clinton's tenure as secretary of state.

The legal action comes after repeated requests filed under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act have gone unfulfilled. They include one request AP made five years ago and others pending since the summer of 2013.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, comes a day after Clinton broke her silence about her use of a private email account while secretary of state. The FOIA requests and lawsuit seek materials related to her public and private calendars, correspondence involving longtime aides likely to play key roles in her expected campaign for president, and Clinton-related emails about the Osama bin Laden raid and National Security Agency surveillance practices.

"After careful deliberation and exhausting our other options, The Associated Press is taking the necessary legal steps to gain access to these important documents, which will shed light on actions by the State Department and former Secretary Clinton, a presumptive 2016 presidential candidate, during some of the most significant issues of our time," said Karen Kaiser, AP's general counsel.

Said AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll, "The Freedom of Information Act exists to give citizens a clear view of what government officials are doing on their behalf. When that view is denied, the next resort is the courts."

State Department spokesman Alec Gerlach declined to comment. He had previously cited the department's heavy annual load of FOIA requests — 19,000 last year — in saying that the department "does its best to meet its FOIA responsibilities." He said the department takes requests "first in, first out," but noted that timing depends on "the complexity of the request."

Carroll said the AP was filing additional requests Wednesday using FOIA and other tools following the disclosure last week that Clinton had used a private email account run on a server on her property outside New York while working at the State Department.

Clinton on Tuesday said she sent and received about 60,000 emails from her personal email address in her four years as President Barack Obama's secretary of state. She said roughly half were work-related, which she turned over to the State Department, while deleting tens of thousands more that were personal in nature.

The department says it will take several months to review the material Clinton turned over last year. Once the review is complete, the department said, the emails will be posted online.

The AP had sought Clinton-related correspondence before her use of a personal email account was publicly known, although Wednesday's court filing alleges that the State Department is responsible for including emails from that account in any public records request.

"State's failure to ensure that Secretary Clinton's governmental emails were retained and preserved by the agency, and its failure timely to seek out and search those emails in response to AP's requests, indicate at the very least that State has not engaged in the diligent, good-faith search that FOIA requires," says AP's legal filing.

Specifically, AP is seeking copies of Clinton's full schedules and calendars from her four years as secretary of state; documents related to her department's decision to grant a special position to longtime aide Huma Abedin; related correspondence from longtime advisers Philippe Reines and Cheryl Mills, who, like Abedin, are likely to play central roles in a Clinton presidential campaign; documents related to Clinton's and the agency's roles in the Osama bin Laden raid and National Security Agency surveillance practices; and documents related to her role overseeing a major Defense Department contractor.

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.

Other organizations have also sued the State Department recently after lengthy delays responding to public record requests.

In December, the conservative political advocacy group Citizens United sued the State Department for failing to disclose flight records showing who accompanied Clinton on overseas trips. Last week, the National Security Archive, an organization that gathers declassified government records, filed a lawsuit after waiting more than seven years for the State Department to release of details of former secretary of state Henry Kissinger's telephone conversations.

Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, predicted the State Department would speed up its review facing legal action, particularly given that Clinton has said that her email correspondence doesn't include classified material.

"When the government is under a court deadline, or really wants to review, they can whip through thousands of pages in a matter of weeks, which they should do here," Blanton said.

The State Department generally takes about 450 days to turn over records it considers to be part of complex requests under the Freedom of Information Act. That is seven times longer than the Justice Department and CIA, and 30 times longer than the Treasury Department.

An inspector general's report in 2012 criticized the State Department's practices as "inefficient and ineffective," citing a heavy workload, small staff and interagency problems.

State Department lax on preserving emails?

Separately, the State Department's internal watchdog has found that many department employees are not preserving emails for the public record as required by the government.

That could mean a substantial amount of government information is being lost to history.

The inspector general, in a report out Wednesday, says that in 2011, when Hillary Rodham Clinton was secretary of state, department employees wrote more than 1 billion emails but only marked 61,156 for the public record. There's no way to know from the figures how many should have been designated as public records.

The report says many employees don't know the rules for what emails should be recorded for history, or fear the consequences of having their recorded emails searched and exposed. Some thought the rules were merely for their convenience.

Fact-checking Clinton and her emails

Meanwhile, AP has done some fact-checking on how Clinton's statements about her exclusive use of private email instead of a government account as secretary of state compare with the known facts. Each statement from Clinton is followed by some fact-checking from AP:

"Others had done it."

FACTS: Although email practices varied among her predecessors, Clinton is the only secretary of state known to have conducted all official unclassified government business on a private email address. Years earlier, when emailing was not the ubiquitous practice it is now among high officials, Colin Powell used both a government and a private account. It's a striking departure from the norm for top officials to rely exclusively on private email for official business.

"I fully complied with every rule I was governed by."

FACTS: At the very least, Clinton appears to have violated what the White House has called "very specific guidance" that officials should use government email to conduct business.

Clinton provided no details about whether she had initially consulted with the department or other government officials before using the private email system. She did not answer several questions about whether she sought any clearances before she began relying exclusively on private emails for government business.

Federal officials are allowed to communicate on private email and are generally allowed to conduct government business in those exchanges, but that ability is constrained, both by federal regulations and by their supervisors.

Federal law during Clinton's tenure called for the archiving of such private email records when used for government work, but did not set out clear rules or punishments for violations until rules were tightened in November. In 2011, whenClinton was secretary, a cable from her office sent to all employees advised them to avoid conducting any official business on their private email accounts because of targeting by unspecified "online adversaries."

"I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email. There is no classified material."

FACTS: The assertion fits with the facts as known but skirts the issue of exchanging information in a private account that, while falling below the level of classified, is still sensitive.

The State Department and other national security agencies have specified rules for the handling of such sensitive material, which could affect national security, diplomatic and privacy concerns, and may include material such as personnel, medical and law enforcement data. In reviewing the 30,000 emails she turned over to the State Department, officials are looking for any security lapses concerning sensitive but unclassified material that may have been disclosed.

"It had numerous safeguards. It was on property guarded by the Secret Service. And there were no security breaches."

FACTS: While Clinton's server was physically guarded by the Secret Service, she provided no evidence it hadn't been compromised by hackers or foreign adversaries. She also didn't detail who administered the email system, if it received appropriate software security updates, or if it was monitored routinely for unauthorized access.

Clinton also didn't answer whether the homebrew computer system on her property had the same level of safeguards provided at professional data facilities, such as regulated temperatures, offsite backups, generators in case of power outages and fire-suppression systems. It was unclear what, if any, encryption software Clinton's server may have used to communicate with U.S. government email accounts.

Recent high-profile breaches, including at Sony Pictures Entertainment, have raised scrutiny on how well corporations and private individuals protect their computer networks from attack.

"When I got to work as secretary of state, I opted for convenience to use my personal email account, which was allowed by the State Department, because I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for my personal emails instead of two. Looking back, it would've been better if I'd simply used a second email account and carried a second phone, but at the time, this didn't seem like an issue."

FACTS: If multiple devices were an inconvenience in the past, they may be something of an obsession now. Clintontold an event in California's Silicon Valley last month that she has an iPad, a mini-iPad, an iPhone and a BlackBerry. "I'm like two steps short of a hoarder," she said. She suggested she started out in Washington with a BlackBerry but her devices grew in number.

Smartphones were capable of multiple emails when she became secretary; it's not clear whether the particular phone she used then was permitted to do so under State Department rules.

Associated Press reporters Steve Peoples, Calvin Woodward, Jack Gillum and Stephen Braun contributed to this report.