If Hillary Clinton loses this election,it won’t be because of Bernie Sanders. It won’t be because of Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush or Carly Fiorina. It will be because of a 1966 statute.
The Clintons are street fighters,and over their scandal-plagued years they have mastered outwitting the press,Congress,the Justice Department,even special prosecutors. But the reason Mrs. Clinton isn’t winning her latest scandal is because she faces a new opponent—one she can’t beat: the Freedom of Information Act.
Of all the Clinton email revelations this week,none compared with a filing by the State Department in federal Judge Emmet Sullivan’s court in Washington on Monday. The filing was a response to a FOIA lawsuit brought in March by conservative organization Citizens United. The group demanded documents from Mrs. Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state related to the Clinton Foundation and to the 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi,Libya. What the State Department revealed was a testament to the power of FOIA.
Congressional investigators can subpoena documents,but even if after long delays they get them,the investigators must trust that the agency handed over everything. The agency usually doesn’t. Under FOIA,by contrast,the agency is required by law to provide plaintiffs with a complete inventory and broad description of every document it has that pertains to the request—but is withholding. This is known as a Vaughn index. The State Department on Monday handed over its Vaughn indexto Citizens United and,boy,are these email descriptions revealing.
We find that the State Department has—but is not releasing—an email chain between then-Clinton Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills and a Clinton Foundation board member about the secretary of state’s planned trip to Africa. We find that the State Department has—but is not releasing—emails between Ms. Mills and foundation staff discussing “invitations to foreign business executives to attend the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative.” We find many undisclosed email chains in which State Department officials talk with Clinton Foundation officials about Bill Clinton speeches and Bill Clinton travel,including to events in North Korea and Congo.
Huma Abedin,a longtime confidante of Mrs. Clinton’s,was somehow allowed to work,simultaneously,at the State Department,the Clinton Foundation and as a consultant to Teneo—a consulting firm run by Clinton loyalist Doug Band. All three of Ms. Abedin’s hats come into play in an undisclosed email exchange regarding a 2012 dinner in Ireland. As the Washington Examiner reported in May,Mrs. Clinton received an award at the dinner from a Clinton Foundation donor. The ceremony was promoted by Teneo. Mrs. Clinton attended in her official capacity as secretary of state. Sort through that.
We already know that the Clinton Foundation continued to take foreign money even while Mrs. Clinton was secretary of state. We now know this was only the start of the entwining. These email summaries show that the Clinton Foundation was the State Department and the State Department was the Clinton Foundation. All one,big,seamless,Clinton-promoting entity. We would know far more if State released the full emails. It is citing personal privacy as one reason not to make some public. In others,it claims the emails “shed no light on the conduct of U.S. Government business.”
Separately,we learn that the State Department is withholding from Citizens United and congressional investigators 14 separate exchanges between department employees regarding Benghazi. Most of these involve discussions of the State Department’s statement about the attack,or its responses to congressional inquiries about the attack. In short,those documents go directly to the focus of Congress’s probe: whether the administration covered up what it knew about the attack or the risks to the four American diplomats who were killed. The State Department is claiming attorney-client privilege for its withholding,since most of the exchanges involve Ms. Mills—who we now find also served as an attorney at the department. The Clintons think of everything.
All told,there are at least 35 FOIA lawsuits pending for Clinton-related email. Nearly everything important we’ve learned has come from those suits. They are why the State Department is releasing emails; why we know they contained classified information; why we know Mrs. Clinton’s aides also used unsanctioned email accounts; why we know that the State Department is covering for Mrs. Clinton.
Which explains why the Justice Department wants the judiciary to “consolidate” the lawsuits,claiming that the State Department is overwhelmed. The real goal is to shut down the process. Consolidation will slow discovery,and the chances of stopping the information flow is better if all the suits come before one judge,who might be friendly,rather than six unpredictable ones. But each organization bringing a suit deserves a separate hearing. It isn’t these groups’ fault that the State Department allowed Mrs. Clinton to go email rogue and now has a mess.
What Democrats are only beginning to understand is that 35 FOIA lawsuits is a guarantee of weekly Clinton email-news bombs. This isn’t ending. The polls keep measuring Mrs. Clinton in theoretical matchups. The only matchup that matters is this one: Clinton vs. FOIA. And FOIA is crushing it.