WASHINGTON (CN) - The State Department gummed up a right-leaning government watchdog's requests to see ethics agreements signed by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her staff pertaining to the Clinton Foundation, the group claims in federal court.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday by the Cause of Action Institute comes two months after a controversial Associated Press report purported to show that that while secretary of state, Clinton gave a disproportionate number of meetings to people who donated to the Clinton Foundation.
In the six-page complaint filed in federal court in the District of Columbia, the watchdog group says the State Department took too long to produce ethics agreements, recusals and other documents the group says would show how Clinton balanced her duties as secretary of state with her close proximity to the charitable foundation headed by her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
Cause of Action says the department's estimate that it would complete a search for the requested records by April 30, 2017, is an unreasonably long timeline under the Freedom of Information Act.
The group points to a State Department inspector general report that found 53 percent of department officials appointed by the president completed mandatory ethics training during Clinton's last year on the job as evidence that the documents would be of interest to the general public.
"Although Secretary Clinton's initial ethics agreement is publically available, it is unknown whether she made any additional agreements or recusals that may have governed her conduct while in office," the complaint says.
"Similarly, it is unclear what agreements her aides - some of whom had their own ties to the Clinton Foundation - may have made, and whether they or Secretary Clinton ever obtained any ethics waivers to participate in activities from which they otherwise would have been disqualified," the plaintiff maintains.
The Associated Press story that inspired the controversy regarding Clinton's alleged close relationship to the foundation found that half of the private citizens with whom she met while secretary of state had donated to the Clinton Foundation, either directly or through other sources.
Though the Cause of Action institute does not mention the Associated Press story in the complaint, it filed its Freedom of Information Act request on Aug. 24, one day after the story ran.
The story almost immediately came under fire from both Clinton's campaign and from others in the news media who questioned the low number of meetings the AP analyzed, and noted the report did not consider whether the people Clinton met with had legitimate reasons to be there regardless of their donation to the foundation.
For example, Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon took to Twitter to point out that one of the donors the AP likely included in its count of questionable meetings was late Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, a world-renowned humanitarian who he said would not be out of place in a State Department meeting.
Other meetings the AP likely captured in its analysis included ones with actor Ben Affleck and former basketball player Dikembe Mutombo, both of whom have been active philanthropists and humanitarians, Fallon told the Huffington Post.
Though supporters of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump latched onto the story as an example of Clinton's perceived corruption, Democrats defended the meetings as legitimate.
But the Cause of Action Institute stands by the claims of ethics violations.
"It appears that State Department officials during Secretary Clinton's tenure did not take their ethics responsibilities seriously," Cause of Action Institute Vice President John Vecchione said in a statement. "Americans have a right to know whether Secretary Clinton and her aides at the State Department flouted ethics requirements in order to grant special treatment to Clinton Foundation supporters."
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.