Federal judge Royce Lamberth sharply criticized former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Department of Justice, characterizing Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server as “one of the gravest modern offenses to government transparency”, according to the Hill.
Presiding over the federal case Judicial Watch, Inc v. U.S. Department of State, Lamberth did not mince words in writing his memorandum opinion — via the United States District Court For the District of Columbia — of his ruling, one that granted Judicial Watch discovery in their Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the State and Justice Departments. Lamberth suggested in his comments that Clinton may have intentionally used a private e-mail server for the express purpose of avoiding public scrutiny of her work, and that both the State Department and the Justice Department had conspired to bury the investigation.
“At best, State’s efforts to pass off its deficient search as legally adequate during settlement negotiations was negligence born out of incompetence,” Lamberth wrote of the State Department’s review of emails that Clinton provided to investigators. “At worst, career employees at the State and Justice Departments colluded to scuttle public scrutiny of Clinton, skirt FOIA, and hoodwink this court.”
Lamberth ordered both agencies to work with Judicial Watch to develop a plan for discovery within the next ten days.
In July of 2014, Judicial Watch, a conservative government accountability foundation, filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit demanding the release of Clinton’s e-mails regarding the Benghazi terrorist attacks. About six months later, it was discovered that Clinton had used a private e-mail account to communicate about the incident with U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and Clinton’s aides. It was also found out that officials within the State Department were aware that the e-mails were missing from internal records.
The State Department told Judicial Watch that they had completed their investigation, despite knowing that the e-mails were not included, and pushed for a settlement. Judicial Watch refused to settle, and later learned that the e-mails had not been a part of the State Department investigation, leading them to file the lawsuit.
Accused in court of intentionally misleading the court about the status of the investigation, Department of Justice lawyers claimed that they didn’t know the e-mails were missing, and that it took them two months to “figure out what was going on.” Department of Justice attorneys claimed that the oversight was the result of “normal FOIA practice.” In his memorandum, Judge Lamberth said “counsel’s responses strain credibility.”
Lamberth went on to note that “the Court found enough signs of government wrongdoing to justify discovery,” but that that court was waiting for related cases and investigations to conclude before setting a specific discovery order. Judge Lamberth ordered “the parties to meet and confer to develop a discovery plan into whether Clinton used a private e-mail to stymie FOIA, whether State’s attempts to settle the case despite knowing its initial search was inadequate amounted to bad faith, and whether State’s subsequent searches have been adequate.”
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