A federal judge Tuesday ordered the State Department to speed up release of former Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton’s private emails, giving special priority to the messages on Benghazi — and Mrs. Clinton said she’s eager to see them all quickly made public.
U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras’ order was a rebuke to the department, which on Monday had said it wouldn’t release the emails until January at the earliest, claiming it was time-consuming to sort through the 55,000 pages Mrs. Clinton turned over last year, and to get the all-clear from other agencies and government attorneys.
Judge Contreras scoffed at the department’s excuse and demanded a “rolling production” of the documents, ordered the State Department to come back every two months with a progress report and gave the department just two weeks to set a deadline for all of Mrs. Clinton’s emails related to Benghazi.
“We’ll comply with the order,” Jeff Rathke, the state department spokesman, told reporters — though he wouldn’t answer questions on whether any emails have already been cleared or when the first ones might be produced.
For her part, Mrs. Clinton, traveling in Iowa for her presidential campaign, insisted she wants to see the emails quickly released.
“I have said repeatedly I want those emails out,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters at a campaign event in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “Nobody has a bigger interest in getting them released than I do.”
“I want the American people to learn as much as we can about the work that I did with our diplomats and our development experts,” she said. “Because I think that it will show how hard we worked and the work we did for our country during the time that I was secretary of state, where I worked extremely hard on behalf of our values, and our interests and our security.”
Mrs. Clinton insisted the matter was now out of her hands — though she did have control of the messages for nearly two years after leaving the State Department, and only turned them over to the government after a House committee investigating the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack learned of them and prodded the Obama administration.
She relinquished the emails in December and said she then wiped her server clean.
Mrs. Clinton’s remarks came as she entertained questions from news reporters for the first time in 28 days. She also answered questions about other intrigue swirling around her presidential campaign, including foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation while she served as secretary of state and the massive wealth amassed by herself and her husband, former President Clinton.
In its court filing Monday, the State Department claimed it was working as fast as possible — though John F. Hackett, the department’s top Freedom of Information Act officer, said they were stymied by difficulties such as double-sided pages.
He said it took five weeks to scan all of the emails, and they finished this month. That raises questions about why they didn’t begin in December, when Mrs. Clinton finally turned the documents over.
Mr. Hackett said with the documents scanned, they now must be loaded into a database, then be run by the CIA, the Pentagon, the Director of National Intelligence, the White House National Security Council and others.
He said it would take until the end of the year to process all of the emails and, just to be safe with the holiday season, he said he would post them all on Jan. 15, 2016. He warned, however, that date could slip if other parts of the Obama administration didn’t cooperate.
Judge Contreras rejected that proposal in his Tuesday order, insisting the documents be released more quickly.
Democratic political strategist Brad Bannon said the ruling was a boon for the Clinton campaign.
“The sooner the emails gets out, the better it is for Hillary,” he said. “It’s easier to deal [with] any collateral damage now than it would be next year right before and during the nomination and general election campaigns.”
The delays have angered congressional Republicans, who said things were beginning to smell fishy.
“The State Department’s own chief FOIA official said earlier this month that Secretary Clinton’s private email practices were not acceptable. Just as unacceptable is the Obama administration’s continued delay in making those emails available to the public,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican. “Secretary Clinton skirted the law and disregarded the basic principle of open government by hiding her email from the American people, and it is past time to find out why.”
Republicans have focused on Mrs. Clinton’s emails relating to the 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
The special House committee investigating Benghazi has said it wants to hear from her in private about her email practices, and to hold a public hearing for her to answer questions about security at the Benghazi compound. The committee is sparring with Mrs. Clinton over timing and over whether it has all of the emails from her server and from other State Department employees.
On Monday The New York Times reported some of the emails to Mrs. Clinton were from former aide Sidney Blumenthal, raising questions about her use of a shadow intelligence network during her time as secretary.
In Iowa, Mrs. Clinton laughed off the report.
“I have many, many old friends, and I always think that it’s important when you get into politics to have friends you had before you were in politics and to understand what’s on their minds,” she told reporters.
“He sent me unsolicited emails, which I passed on in some instances,” said Mrs. Clinton. “That’s just part of the give and take: When you’re in the public eye, when you’re in an official position, I think you do have to work to make sure you’re not caught in a bubble and you only hear from a certain small group of people, and I’m going to keep talking to my old friends, whoever they are.”
Mrs. Clinton also addressed the donations by foreign governments and individuals to the Clinton Foundation while she was secretary of state, which presented conflicts of interest and broke an agreement made with the Obama administration when she took the job.
“I think that just goes to show that people are very supportive of the life-saving and life-changing work it’s done here at home and elsewhere, and I’ll let the American people make their own judgment,” she said.
She defended the huge speaking fees earned by herself and the former president, which helped boost their earnings to $30 million last year. The windfall has raised eyebrows as Mrs. Clinton campaigns as a warrior against income inequality and a champion of those she calls “everyday Americans.”
“Bill and I have been blessed,” she said, vowing to push so that every American has the opportunities she did.
Mrs. Clinton also answered the hypothetical question of whether she would still have supported the invasion of Iraq, as she did in her 2002 vote in the Senate, given what she now knows.
“I’ve been very clear that I made a mistake, plain and simple,” she said.
She went on to absolve the Obama administration of responsibility for the current violence and chaos gripping Iraq.
“What we now see is a very different and very dangerous situation,” said Mrs. Clinton. “The United States is doing what it can, but ultimately, this has to be a struggle that the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government are determined to win for themselves. We can provide support, but they’re going to have to do it.”