State Department spokesman Mark Toner refused on Tuesday to acknowledge there could be a potential conflict of interest from the State Department hiring lawyers from the firm that represents Hillary Clinton to review her emails that were requested to be made public.
The lawyers were with the Washington, D.C. firm Williams & Connolly LLP, and one was also a part of the IRS scandal in which the agency allegedly targeted conservatives and destroyed records.
Several reporters at Tuesday’s State Department press briefing asked Toner if he would acknowledge the appearance of impropriety.
Fox News’ Catherine Herridge first raised the issue with Toner.
"The Intelligence Community Inspector General said in his interview that a number of special employees were hired to work in the FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] office and this raised significant concerns among the career people in the State Department. That’s what the document says," Herridge said.
"At least one of the special employees worked for Williams & Connolly. Who approved the hires? Was it [Patrick] Kennedy who got them clearances, and is it a conflict of interest to have a lawyer working in the FOIA office handling Hillary Clinton’s emails while the same firm ultimately represents her in this case?"
Toner could not say for sure who hired the lawyers but said the State Department believes they "performed to the highest professional and ethical standards." He added that the attorneys who worked at the department did not work for Clinton but were only from the same law firm.
Herridge noted that Catherine Duval was one of the attorneys who worked at the State Department on Clinton’s emails and came from Williams & Connolly. Duval is also known as being a part of the IRS scandal surrounding Lois Lerner and the targeting of conservative groups.
Toner responded to Herridge by defending Duval and said that Williams & Connolly is a large firm. Herridge repeated the objections of the inspector general.
Other reporters at the briefing also confronted Toner over how some could view as a conflict of interest having a lawyer from the firm representing Clinton also working at the State Department.
"Just stating the obvious fact that Williams & Connolly is a large law firm does not necessarily mean that there’s absolutely no way there was conflict of interest," Associated Press reporter Matt Lee said. "The question is at least it gives an appearance, it could give the appearance, at least an appearance of conflict of interest, and your response is, ‘Williams & Connolly is a large law firm?’"
"All I’m saying, Matt, is that it is possible to work at Williams & Connolly and not have a conflict of interest," Toner said.
"Actually, is it really possible?" another reporter asked.
Toner later accused the press of politicizing the situation. The reporter who asked if if it was really possible to not have the conflict of interest took offense at Toner’s claim.
"Respectfully, to dismiss questions about potential conflict of interest and reduce them to just mere politicization, I think, disrespects the people in this room that are following the State Department day in, day out and are asking questions about the employees in this building."
Toner laughed at the reporter.
Lee then brought up how nobody in the State Department thought of bringing in lawyers from other firms instead given the abundance of attorneys in the D.C. area.