Grassley blasts FBI over Clinton emails – Politico
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley is blasting the FBI for rebuffing a judge’s request for information on the law enforcement agency’s investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email system.
Grassley, whose panel oversees the FBI, reacted sharply to a letter the FBI sent Monday turning aside U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan’s request for information on whether investigators have been able to retrieve records from a back-up thumb drive of Clinton emails or from a server turned over by a tech company Clinton hired.
“The FBI is behaving like it’s above the law,” Grassley said in a statement provided to POLITICO on Monday evening. “Simply refusing to cooperate with a court-ordered request is not an appropriate course of action. This entire case, from Secretary Clinton’s ill-advised decision to use a non-government email server, to the FBI’s investigation about classified information, needs some transparency in order to assure the American people that getting to the bottom of this controversy is a priority.”
Grassley, who has been investigating aspects of the email controversy and State’s personnel practices, did not elaborate on what steps his committee might take. It’s also unclear whether the judge involved or other judges handling similar cases might take more emphatic action, like directly ordering the FBI to cooperate.
About a month ago, Sullivan asked the State Department to reach out to the FBI for assistance in addressing a Freedom of Information Act request by the conservative group Judicial Watch regarding Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s employment arrangements. The judge also asked State to report on arrangements for the FBI to share information about the ongoing investigation.
In a terse letter Monday, FBI General Counsel James Baker appeared to reject the request .
“At this time, consistent with long-standing Department of Justice and FBI policy, we can neither confirm nor deny the existence of any ongoing investigation, nor are we in a position to provide additional information at this time,” Baker wrote to senior Department attorney Mary McLeod.
The Justice Department confirmed in July that it received a referral from the Intelligence Community Inspector General regarding possible compromise of classified information in Clinton’s email account. The agency initially said the referral was criminal, but later said it was not and that it was sent under a counterintelligence law regarding possible breaches involving national security secrets.
FBI spokespeople have repeatedly declined to comment on whatever inquiry it is or was conducting. However, Clinton’s attorney has confirmed turning over a thumb drive to the Justice Department, while a computer company that provided technical support for Clinton surrendered the server said to have been used to maintain Clinton’s clintonemail.com account after she left office.
The watchdog group that brought the lawsuit also said the FBI’s answer amounted to stonewalling.
“The FBI has evidently decided to stonewall the court’s legitimate inquiry here and the State Department is going along with it,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in an interview. “We’re seeking quick court action to find out where these records might be.”
Judicial Watch asked Sullivan to move up a hearing set for next week to address the FBI’s response.
In his order last month, the judge did not directly order the FBI — which is not a party to the lawsuit — to do anything. Fitton said it might be time for the court to move in that direction or to see whether Clinton herself might be able to clarify whether any back-ups of her messages exist — particularly of the 32,000 messages she had deleted after her attorney determined they were personal in nature.
At the hearing last month, the judge “talked about bringing the FBI in,” Fitton noted. “The FBI might be asked questions. … If it’s going to be that the FBI can’t talk about where her records might be, certainly she should be able to disclose whether they exist and where.”
After reaching out to the FBI earlier this month in response to Sullivan’s order, State sent a second letter to the FBI last week asking for a full set of any electronic copies of about 54,000 pages of emails Clinton turned over to State in paper form last December as well as any other records the FBI may obtain that could be official State records.
Baker’s letter Monday did not mention State’s follow-up letter making the broader request, which followed demands by the National Archives and by plaintiffs in various FOIA lawsuits that State try to get metadata connected to Clinton’s messages as well as any messages not produced by Clinton last year.
The FBI letter came as the State Department scored several small victories in litigation seeking access to Clinton’s emails as well as accounts that her top aides maintained on State servers and others they kept privately. The tactical wins mean State has yet to face serious consequences for missing deadlines last week in two different FOIA cases.
On Sept. 13, State failed to meet a court-ordered deadline to search the Clinton aides’ emails for correspondence relating to the Clinton Foundation and the consulting firm Teneo–information sought by the conservative group Citizens United. And on Friday, the diplomatic agency said it could not meet a court-ordered deadline to turn over Clinton emails relating to the Benghazi attacks as well as records of any phone calls Clinton made on the issue. That information was demanded in a lawsuit filed by Veterans for a Strong America.
Citizens United objected vociferously to the delays, but Sullivan did not immediately rule on the issue, setting a hearing for Tuesday morning.
Veterans for Strong America also protested State’s failure to produce records and complained that State did not advise the court of any problem until after 7 P.M. on the day of the deadline. In that filing, State apologized but did not provide a detailed explanation for the delay. It said some records required extensive consultations within State and with other agencies.
Judge Rosemary Collyer signaled Monday that she is not concerned by the delay. She disputed the Veterans’ group’s claim that by forcing records disclosure, the organization was aiding a congressional probe into the Benghazi attacks.
“Congress has different and more powerful ways to obtain information from the State Department than a FOIA plaintiff,” Collyer said in an order that granted State a six-week extension.
A lawyer for the vets group, Brad Moss, said it was disappointing that the judge imposed no consequence for State’s missed deadline.“With all due respect, the court is sending the absolute wrong message to the State Department,” Moss said. “What reason does State have to competently run its FOIA operations and meet agreed-upon production deadlines if the court will just let it blow right past those deadlines with impunity?”
In yet another Clinton-related FOIA case Friday, Judge Amy Berman Jackson granted a partial stay of State’s obligations to search for records contained in Clinton’s email account relating to two Clinton Foundation donors: Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire businessman Gilbert Chagoury and Chicago securities trader Raj Fernando. Jackson said, however, that State should keep processing any such records it has already identified.
Other judges have declined to impose such stays, which State sought as it tries to have some aspects of the more than 30 FOIA cases connected to Clinton and her aides’ emails coordinated by a single judge.
Judge Randolph Moss said Monday that he wasn’t planning to issue such a stay, mainly because he sees no imminent deadlines in the case he’s handling. It involves two private individuals seeking State Department records about the Obama Administration’s engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood.
“It doesn’t seem like there’s anything going on that I need to stay,” Moss said during a 15-minute telephone hearing Monday.
Justice Department lawyer Kyle Freeny said the requesters—writers for the Lyndon LaRouche-backed Executive Intelligence Review who are representing themselves in the lawsuit–have already received all the records they’re entitled to regarding a Presidential Study Directive President Barack Obama issued on the subject. Freeny said searches continue on the broader issue of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Moss said he wanted an update on those searches in 60 days, but he wasn’t setting a deadline for State to finish its work.
At Monday’s hearing, Moss disclosed a series of connections to Clinton, saying he had worked as a volunteer adviser during her 2008 presidential campaign, worked in her husband President Bill Clinton’s administration and made campaign donations to the Clintons.
Moss also said he has had some dealings with Clinton’s former chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, whose emails are in contention in some of the pending FOIA lawsuits. The judge said that he had not discussed the litigation with her.
The requesters said they had no objection to Moss ruling on the case despite those ties.