State Department gears up for final Clinton email release

Posted at 10:18 PM, Feb 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-26 22:18:17-05

The State Department on Friday released approximately 1,500 pages of Hillary Clinton’s official emails, but the team reviewing those emails won’t get much time to rest. They still have about 4,000 pages to sort through by close of business on Monday, a date that will mark the end of a nine-month review process that has strained the State Department’s resources and nagged Clinton’s presidential campaign.

A State Department staffer confirmed to CNN that personnel will be working throughout to weekend to prepare the final emails for release in an effort to meet the court-ordered deadline.

“We take our obligations to the court seriously and are making every effort to comply with this order,” Deputy State Department Spokesman Mark Toner said ahead of Friday’s release. “We do intend, in that spirit, to make a final production on Monday, February 29th.”

The number of classification upgrades rises

To date, the State Department has released more than 48,000 pages of Clinton’s emails, representing 92.5% of the total set. Friday’s batch included 88 emails that were retroactively upgraded to classified and redacted accordingly, bringing the total number of upgraded emails to 1,840.

Clinton and officials at the State Department have long said none of the information was marked as classified at the time it was sent, but that hasn’t prevented her critics from accusing her of mishandling information.

The State Department is conducting a separate review into whether any information in the emails was classified at the time they were sent, but has provided no information on the timeline for that review.

A controversy that won’t end

The email issue has plagued Clinton’s presidential campaign since last March, when a New York Times report revealed she had used a private email server to conduct official business while in office and did not provide copies to the government for archiving purposes until she asked by State Department nearly two years after her tenure ended.

At that time, Clinton’s attorneys and staffers sorted through the emails, turning approximately 55,000 pages over to the State Department and withholding others they deemed personal.

When news of her unusual email setup emerged, Clinton called on the State Department to release the emails.

But while the release is nearing its conclusion, the questions that have dogged Clinton over the past year are unlikely to end so soon.

That’s because the FBI is currently investigating her server, and dozens of Freedom of Information Act lawsuits related to the email issue are plodding through the federal court system.

At a hearing this week in one such case, a judge suggested he might call on the State Department to subpoena Clinton and one of her top aides for the personal emails her staff withheld.

A drain on resources

The State Department has devoted tremendous resources over the past year to its FOIA office to deal with this and other archiving and transparency issues. At a hearing Thursday on the Department’s 2017 fiscal year budget proposal, current Secretary of State John Kerry lamented the drain.

“I’ve had to cannibalize bureaus — young, capable lawyers, professionals — to come out and go sit and work on this so we are able to meet the demands,” Kerry said. “We are overburdened.”

And Kerry hasn’t been immune to the controversy over Clinton’s email use.

In that same hearing, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California, hit the secretary with a barrage of questions on Clinton and on his own communication methods.

“You’re fixated on this,” said a clearly exasperated Kerry. “I think people are really getting bored with it, congressman.”

State Department officials say that, unlike Clinton, Kerry uses a email address for official communications, and that a staffer periodically reviews his personal account to make sure everything official is being archived.

But even as government agencies, the court system and politicians spar over proper use of email, new questions are arising over how government archiving rules can keep pace with fast-changing technology, as evidenced by another exchange at Thursday’s hearing, during which Issa questioned Kerry on his texting habits.

Kerry, who says he texts on occasion but only about logistics and never policy, emphasized that the State Department is currently undergoing a broad review of its archiving practices — one that was, appropriately enough, instigated by the Clinton email revelation.