State Department to Be Slammed With FOIA Lawsuits

Barrage of lawsuits following Hillary Clinton email scandal

Hillary Clinton / AP
Hillary Clinton / AP

The State Department is facing a barrage of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits following revelations that Hillary Clinton exclusively used a private email address to conduct official business during her tenure as secretary of state.

The State Department was hit with two new lawsuits last week, with several more threatened. The possibility that the department improperly handled FOIA requests and lawsuits for Clinton’s records in the six years between her appointment as secretary of state and Monday’s disclosure has raised the possibility of a slew of litigation.

Judicial Watch, a conservative government watchdog group, filed a lawsuit on Wednesday for communications between Clinton and Nagla Mahmoud, the wife of the ousted Egyptian president, Mohammad Morsi.

There could be many more lawsuits on the way from the watchdog group. Tom Fitton, the group’s president, said in an interview that his organization has 10 active lawsuits against the State Department and at least 10 previous suits that could be re-litigated in light of the new information, not to mention numerous FOIA requests that may have been improperly completed or denied.

"The universe of legal cases that could have been impacted, we can’t even begin to know right now," Fitton said. "In our little FOIA universe we can find 20. Given how much litigation State was involved in every year that required them to search Clinton’s email account, I can’t fathom the number of cases that have been impacted by this."

Meanwhile, the group Veterans for a Strong America is filing a suit against the State Department for Clinton’s emails and phone logs from the day of the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi. VSA filed the FOIA request seven months ago seeking the emails, including any on personal email addresses.

Mark Zaid, an experienced FOIA attorney, is representing VSA. "This FOIA lawsuit will help determine whether government officials using their personal email accounts, especially if deliberate, still constitutes agency records," Zaid said in an email. "The public is entitled to know what their government is up to, whether those communications are via State.gov or yahoo.com."

The Associated Press is also mulling a lawsuit against the State Department, the New York Times reported last week. The AP has several outstanding FOIA requests for records from the secretary of state’s office during Clinton’s tenure. One of those requests is five years old. An AP spokesman had no update when reached for comment.

Citizens United, a conservative advocacy group, filed a lawsuit against the State Department last December seeking passenger manifests and other information regarding flights taken by Clinton while she was secretary of state. The group had filed a FOIA request in July 2014 but said that it never received a substantive response.

At a court hearing Friday, the government submitted a production schedule to produce Citizen United’s requested records. Under the schedule, the first documents would be released on April 3. Citizens United said it is reviewing the schedule and will submit a response by the end of the week.

Jason Leopold, a reporter for Vice Newsalso filed a FOIA lawsuit against the State Department in January for records related to Clinton. Leopold reported last week that Clinton’s emails have begun to trickle out in response to ongoing FOIA lawsuits.