Ex-Diplomat’s Info Request Needs Second Look

     (CN) – Already clocking overtime on an avalanche of other document requests, the State Department must work harder to accommodate an ex-diplomat’s hunt for information about why the human resources bureau did not promote her, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday.
     Former senior diplomat Joan Wadelton claims that she became an “enemy” of the department’s human resources bureau because she protested its decision to remove her from a fellowship with then-Sen. Joe Biden, whom she served as an adviser.
     Wadelton, who was one of the first diplomats on the ground during the second Iraq War, alleges that she “collected evidence” that her treatment mirrors a “systematic manipulation of the selection board promotion process by a circle of current and former high-level HR managers,” in a 13-page Federal of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed in 2013.
     After attaining the department’s highest rank during more than 30 years of service, Wadelton maintains that retaliation led to her firing four years ago.
     She had filed a separate lawsuit against then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and dozens of other defendants less than a month before her termination in early 2011.
     Though Wadelton’s cases went relatively under the radar, the progressive website Truthout joined her FOIA suit and Politico reported that the case dovetailed with attempts to shine a light on Clinton’s private emails.
     In a phone interview, Wadelton’s lawyer Kel McClanahan of the Arlington, Va.-based National Security Counselors said that the court has been unimpressed by the State Department’s attempts at using the massive public interest in the Clinton emails to delay disclosures to his client.
     Proving that it has been keeping busy with these, the State Department released a tranche of hundreds of redacted emails on Friday.
     “I have a feeling that that will pop up again,” McClanahan said.
     U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan’s ruling is a mixed victory for his client, sending Foggy Bottom back to do a more complete search while finding that its privilege assertions were mostly proper.
     But Chutkin found it “particularly troubling” that the department asserted privilege over “handwritten notes which ‘may or may not reflect’ raters’ final decisions on promotion.”
     “If the final decision is reflected somewhere in those notes, that decision is likely not shielded from disclosure and, to the extent reasonable and practicable, should have been produced with redactions over the legitimately privileged material,” she wrote.
     In addition, the State Department “failed to demonstrate that it conducted an adequate search of either HR or management,” she wrote.
     Commenting he was “pleased” with this part of the decision, McClanahan added that he was mulling over whether to appeal the granting of privilege and the refusal to find a conflict of interest in the processing of Wadelton’s request.
     The State Department tasked Patrick Kennedy and Melinda Chandler to perform the searches, both of whom appeared as defendants in Wadelton’s lawsuit.
     This meant sending the duo to probe “information about their own alleged misconduct,” Wadelton noted in court documents.
     Meanwhile, Chutkan’s order left McClanahan hopeful that “this ends in us getting more records.”
     “The problem with FOIA cases like this is that there is sometimes a distinction between ‘We looked hard, and didn’t find any’ and ‘None exist,'” he noted.

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