When Cheryl Mills clammed up

In December 2012, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a Freedom of Information Act request pertaining to Hillary Clinton’s email accounts. The request was for records showing the “number of email accounts of or associated with Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton.”

CREW made the request in the wake of a scandal involving Environmental Protection Agency official Lisa Jackson, who emailed under the pseudonym “Richard Windsor.” The stated purpose was to show that Clinton, like Jackson, used “alias” email accounts and thus that the practice, which undermines federal record preservation and production requirements, might be widespread.

The State Department gave what its inspector general Steve Linick later described as an “inaccurate and incomplete” response. According to the IG’s report (at page 14), issued last month, the State Department responded to CREW that “no records responsive to your request were located.” Yet, the IG’s report continued, “dozens of senior officials throughout the Department, including members of Secretary Clinton’s immediate staff, exchanged emails with the Secretary using the personal accounts she used to conduct official business.”

The report went on to say:

The Office of Inspector General] found evidence that the Secretary’s then-Chief of Staff was informed of the request at the time it was received and subsequently tasked staff to follow up. However, OIG found no evidence to indicate that any of these senior officials reviewed the search results or approved the response to CREW.

OIG also found no evidence that the S/ES, L, and IPS staff involved in responding to requests for information, searching for records, or drafting the response had knowledge of the Secretary’s email usage. Furthermore, it does not appear that S/ES searched any email records, even though the request clearly encompassed emails.

The “then-Chief of Staff” referred to in the report is Cheryl Mills.

How did it happen that CREW’s FOIA request was wrongfully denied? Was this an honest error or an attempt to conceal from CREW (and the public) that Clinton used a private account? Was Clinton in the loop?

To answer these questions, the IG attempted to interview Cheryl Mills. But Sen. Chuck Grassley, who is now looking into the matter, states in a letter to Secretary John Kerry that “when State [Department] IG attorneys investigating this matter approached Ms. Mills, she, through her attorney, refused to speak with them.”

Why might that be?

To determine how the FOIA request was handled at each step in the process, Grassley has called on Kerry to release email traffic from November 2012 through May 2013 for all of the officials involved (including Mills), as well as for Clinton and Patrick Kennedy, the State Department’s under secretary for management. He also asked the IG for information about the State Department’s officials’ interviews with IG investigators.

If Mills emailed Clinton about the FOIA request, it’s quite possible that these emails have been destroyed. As Chuck Ross reminds us, Mills played a key role in process of determining which of Clinton’s emails to turn over to the State Department and which to destroy.

Raymond Maxwell, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Maghreb (North Africa) Affairs, didn’t call Mills The Queen’s Henchman for nothing.

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