Former Secretary Hillary Clinton and her State Department colleagues have given “constantly shifting” stories about her secret email account, a federal judge said Tuesday, finding there’s evidence the Obama administration showed “bad faith” in how it followed open-records laws.
Judge Royce C. Lamberth said it remains to be seen whether the government did try to obfuscate matters, but said there’s at least enough smoke that Judicial Watch, the conservative interest group suing to get a look at all of Mrs. Clinton’s records, should be allowed to press for more details about how the State Department made its decisions.
“Plaintiff is relying on constantly shifting admissions by the government and the former government officials,” Judge Lamberth said.
Mrs. Clinton declined to use a State.gov email account during her term as secretary, instead using an email account tied to a server she kept at her home in New York.
All of her messages that concerned official business were supposed to be archived by the State Department, but she kept them, only returning them in December 2014, nearly two years after leaving office and only at the prompting of the House committee probing the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi.
That meant that during her four years in office and nearly two years afterward, the State Department was not searching those documents in response to open-records requests from Congress or the public.
Last month, the State Department finally finished processing more than 30,000 pages of Mrs. Clinton’s emails and made them public on the department’s Freedom of Information Act web page — a mammoth undertaking that has put a treasure trove of information in the public’s eye.
Judicial Watch and others argue that some 30,000 other messages Mrs. Clinton sent from her secret address during her time in office, but which she has deemed private business, should also be reviewed by the government.
The State Department told Judge Lamberth it never misled the public because it never said it was searching Mrs. Clinton’s emails in the first place. The department said that meant it wasn’t acting in bad faith when it responded to open-records requests.
Judge Lamberth, though, said more evidence is needed before those conclusions can be reached.
“The government argues that this does not show a lack of good faith, but that is what remains to be seen, and the factual record must be developed appropriately in order for this court to make that determination,” he said in a brief ruling.
The Justice Department declined to comment on Judge Lamberth’s ruling, which marks the third legal black eye for the Obama administration in recent weeks.
Last week, a federal appeals court said the Justice Department was turning the law on its head to protect the IRS from taxpayers, rather than to protect taxpayers from the IRS.
And another judge issued a “show cause” order demanding to know why the government appeared to conceal documents in an open-records case brought against a top Obama climate adviser. Judge Amit Mehta, who serves on the district court in Washington, D.C., along with Judge Lamberth, raised the possibility of punishing the administration for its actions.
Judge Lamberth’s decision Tuesday joins that of Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, also in the district court in Washington, who earlier this year granted discovery in another case brought by Judicial Watch against the State Department.
Judge Sullivan even said he was inclined to order the State Department to demand all of Mrs. Clinton’s emails — including the 30,000 or so messages she said were private business, not public records, that she sent from her secret account during her time in office.
Judge Lamberth said he’ll wait to see what Judge Sullivan decides before moving ahead with discovery in his own case.