A federal judge has rejected the State Department’s request to delay all of former Secretary Hillary Clinton’s emails until the eve of the Super Tuesday primaries, issuing an order Thursday that instead makes the administration have to release the documents in four batches between now and the end of the month.
Judge Rudolph Conteras said 550 pages must be released to the public by this Saturday, and then the department must release more documents on Feb. 19, Feb. 26 and, finally, on Feb. 29, when all of the remaining emails must be made public.
“The court expects that defendant will endeavor to avoid any additional delay,” Judge Contreras said in a no-nonsense order that denied the State Department’s hopes of pushing the entire production of 3,700 emails, spanning more than 5,000 pages, until Feb. 29.
Late Wednesday the State Department said it had unexpectedly found “additional resources” to speed up processing of the emails.
That announcement came a day after Judge Contreras had issued a verbal spanking to the department, questioning why it was taking an “unreasonably long” time to get the messages processed and released.
“To state the obvious, these documents have a lot of interest and the timing is important,” Judge Contreras told the Obama administration in a hearing Tuesday.
The department had initially pushed back, saying through its lawyer that any effort to speed up releases would mean it wouldn’t be able to make its own Feb. 29 deadline — which was already a month after the deadline Judge Contreras had initially set.
But late Wednesday the department relented and said it could do more, and faster, to get emails out. Eric F. Stein, the employee overseeing the emails, said he had suddenly found out about “additional resources, of which I was unaware” that were working to process the messages.
“Based on these changed circumstances, State now anticipates making the interim production of the documents discussed during the hearing on Saturday, February 13, 2016, via a posting on its FOIA website,” Mr. Stein told the court in a statement.
The Obama administration has repeatedly struggled to meet court-imposed deadlines for releasing the emails, and is far behind on the final installment.
The department said it broke the deadline because it forgot about some 4,000 messages that needed to be reviewed for classified or private information by other agencies. Those agencies are processing the messages, and some have been finished — those are among the 500 pages that would be posted Saturday.
All told, Mrs. Clinton turned back over to the government about 32,000 messages she sent or received on the email server she kept at her home in New York. Of those, more than 30,000 have been deemed work-related, and most have been released.
In the last batch, which came late last month, more than a quarter of the messages were deemed to have some classified information — including 12 messages that contained very sensitive “secret” information that had to be redacted.
In his order Thursday, the judge said any more problems the State Department has must be “promptly” brought to the court’s attention.
That was likely a rebuke to the department for waiting until late January, just as a massive snowstorm was hitting Washington, to admit that it had fallen behind and wouldn’t be able to release all of the messages by the Jan. 29 deadline because it had forgotten about the 4,000 messages that still needed to be reviewed.
Mrs. Clinton initially said she did not handle classified information on her email account. She later amended that statement to say none of the information was marked classified at the time, though the State Department has since gone back and deemed part or all of more than 1,500 messages classified so far.
Earlier this month the State Department also informed Congress that former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who served under President George W. Bush and also used a non-State.gov account for business, had at least eight messages with information now deemed classified.