As we have observed many times, the Obama administration’s response to scandals, investigations and inquiries has been invariable: it stonewalls them. And the Obama Stonewall Strategy has been highly successful. Given our generally ineffective legal processes, the administration has been able to defer compliance with Congressional subpoenas, Freedom of Information Act requests and the like for years, by which time whatever information might emerge from a sea of redaction is deemed “old news.”
But in the dying days of the Obama administration, one of its chief obstructionists, Hillary Clinton, may finally pay a price for the administration’s chronic lack of transparency. On May 4, Federal Judge Emmet Sullivan signed an order permitting Judicial Watch to take depositions of Hillary’s key aides in Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Department of State. Judge Sullivan’s opinion is below.
A note of caution: this particular Judicial Watch case is a highly specific one, and raises, as Judge Sullivan wrote, “a narrow legal question.” The FOIA request that gave rise to the lawsuit asked for Huma Abedin’s employment records. That’s it. None of the many other issues relating to Mrs. Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State is in play. Still, the case raises critical questions relating to Hillary’s home-brew server and, implicitly, her response to numerous other FOIA requests, as well as her conduct of her office generally.
Judge Sullivan held that Judicial Watch has raised a substantial question as to whether the State Department conducted a good faith search in response to the FOIA request in question. The logic is simple: senior officials at State knew that both Hillary Clinton and Huma Abedin had accounts on Hillary’s home server, but no search of that server for responsive documents was made until after its existence was disclosed in news stories.
Judge Sullivan responded to one of the State Department’s arguments by pointing out that Judicial Watch alleges that “the State Department and Mrs. Clinton sought to ‘deliberately thwart FOIA’ through the creation and use of clintonemail.com.” Not only is such illegal conduct alleged, the court cites evidence that Mrs. Clinton and her aides were, in fact, trying to subvert FOIA:
In August 2011 communication difficulties experienced by Secretary Clinton prompted discussion among State Department staff about whether issuing a State Department blackberry might solve the problem. Pl.’s Reply, Docket No. 51, Exhibit C.
Stephen Mull, Executive Secretary of the State Department at the time, noted that if Secretary Clinton used a State issued blackberry, her identity “would be secret” but that the state.gov email account “would be subject to FOIA requests.” Id. Ms. Abedin responded “let’s discuss the state blackberry, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.” Id.
The court has now permitted Judicial Watch to take depositions of Stephen Mull, Lewis Lukens, Patrick Kennedy, Cheryl Mills, Huma Abedin and Bryan Pagliano. This list includes Hillary’s closest aides as well as Pagliano, the technician who set up the home server, who has already pled the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination in another proceeding. As a former litigator, I would pay money for the privilege of taking Huma Abedin’s deposition, and asking her under oath about her casual assertion that there is no point in issuing Mrs. Clinton a Blackberry if its contents would be subject to FOIA requests.
Here is Judge Sullivan’s opinion:
Sometimes it seems that Barack Obama has all the good luck, and Hillary Clinton is left holding the bag. Judge Sullivan’s order leaves open the possibility that Hillary may have to testify under oath about efforts to evade the Freedom of Information Act. It is safe to say the Judicial Watch’s attorneys would question her a great deal more aggressively and effectively than she is accustomed to.