State Dep’t FOIA Hearing Takes Clinton Detour

     WASHINGTON (CN) — At a hearing meant to review State Department compliance with records requests, Republican congressmen had little explanation for fixating on Hillary Clinton to the exclusion of her predecessors.
     Rep. Elijah Cummings offered a blunt criticism of the hearing Thursday of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
     Cummings said the hearing, which had been billed as reviewing weaknesses in the State Department’s Freedom of Information Act operations, was intended to focus both on recordkeeping concerns surrounding Clinton and past and present secretaries of state”: Madeline Albright, Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice and John Kerry.
     “Albright, Powell, Rice, Clinton and Kerry are meant to be the focus today,” said Cummings, a Maryland Democrat. “But a Republican memo for today focused only on one. You guessed it. Secretary Clinton.”
     Cummings made an effort to redirect the debate the night before with his release of an email Powell sent the newly inducted Secretary Clinton in 2009 with advice on how to operate her personal email offline from State Department servers.
     “Republicans have done nothing but make a series of criminal referrals to help candidates like Donald Trump,” Cummings said. “Our committee should make sure that the historical record is complete and not limited to Clinton, but other secretaries.
     “Powell used his personal email from work and didn’t preserve records,” the congressman added. “But only [records from] 2009 to 2013 were focused on in a committee memo. Clinton produced 55,000 emails while Powell produced none.”
     The apparent phenomena of Powell’s missing documents, and why no investigation had gone forward, came to a head during questioning of one of the witnesses called to testify, Undersecretary Patrick Kennedy.
     “The chief records officer of the Inspector General asked you to contact AOL” to recover Powell’s emails,” said Rep. Stephen Lynch, a Massachusetts Democrat. “AOL informed you that only Mr. Powell could contact AOL to recover emails, and he didn’t.
     With Kennedy agreeing that “AOL will not release records to anyone but the owner of the account,” Lynch pressed as to why the State Department accepted that conclusion.
     “Noncooperation here, even with the advice of counsel is putting the country at risk,” Lynch said. “If we’re putting secretaries of state under the microscope, it shouldn’t just be Democrats under investigation, and that’s what it feels like. We’ve got tens of thousands of documents produced by Secretary Clinton, and we have only three documents in respect to Secretary Powell. This is a sham.”
     Throughout his testimony, Undersecretary Kennedy attempted to provide thorough answers to questions from committee members about why FOIA operations are so lethargic.
     Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz pressed Kennedy on why inquiries into FOIA requests for documents like Clinton’s calendars remain unfulfilled after six years.
     “Given the massive amount of requests, there is simply no way that we can deal with every government agency and 275 [State Department] posts within [FOIA request response deadline of 20 days,” Kennedy answered.
     “That’s a physical impossibility. … Unless I turn the entire State Department away from every national-security mission it has, and focus it on FOIA. Eventually I wouldn’t have a FOIA problem, but there is a true resource and time issue that have to be dealt with here,” Kennedy added.
     Kennedy said the department has already provided the committee with 185,000 documents to date. Since 2008, new FOIA requests have risen 300 percent from 6,000 to over 24,000 requests per year. A 30,000-request backlog has jammed up the works, and that excludes 17 direct requests to the State Department and 13,000 referrals from other agencies to the State Department that need a response.
     Kennedy called the requests “increasingly complex,” but assured the committee that the department is responding to the issue by having adopted more modernized techniques to process requests. The department has also approved a method to preserve emails from more than 688 senior State Department officials, including Secretary Kerry, the witness added.
     The new electronic method to capture and preserve emails is said to be in effect by the end of the year. Plans are underway to bring all FOIA documents online and made searchable on the department’s website as well, Kennedy said.
     Cummings described the hearing as “frantic pre-election fervor” and an “egregious abuse of taxpayer dollars.”

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