A federal judge blasted the Obama administration for slow-walking the release of some of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails, saying in court Monday that the government appears to be withholding information from voters ahead of the election.
U.S. District Judge Richard Leon said the State Department in not “being all that cooperative,” and told the Justice Department lawyers to get the State Department to shape up and do its duty.
“Get with the program, so to speak, so that the people of this country can have the information they need,” he ordered. “The State Department needs to start cooperating to the fullest extent possible. They are not perceived to be doing that.”
Judge Leon, who has earned a reputation as a funny but caustic jurist, particularly when he finds government bungling, said the Justice Department, by not forcing the State Department to cooperate better, is risking its own storied reputation.
He specifically called out the federal programs branch that acts as the lawyer for the rest of the government, and the head of that division, Marcia Berman. Ms. Berman wasn’t in the courtroom Monday, but has been a frequent figure at the courthouse over the last year as the administration has had to defend its handling of Mrs. Clinton’s emails.
Mondays’s case, filed by the Daily Caller News Foundation, concerned documents detailing Mrs. Clinton’s access to top secret programs. The State Department said it has found more than 1,000 documents dealing with the subject, but said it would take nearly a month to process 450 unclassified documents, and couldn’t say how long it would take to process the classified ones.
The case is one of dozens pending where the department has been accused of slow-walking, keeping information out of public view for far longer than is allowed under the Freedom of Information Act.
The State Department says it is overwhelmed by the requests and its own limited budget and manpower. Officials also say the Clinton emails are complicated because they involved classified information that requires a stricter, more time consuming process to clear for the public.
But the government has also been reluctant to divulge important details. At one point on Monday the government lawyer on the case, Jason Lee, said he didn’t know how many pages were in the documents, sparking the judge’s ire.
Judge Leon ordered a faster production of the 450, and when Mr. Lee said they would do their best, Judge Leon pounced.
“Do better than your best. Do it,” he ordered, then proceeded to scold the government for its bungling, and said it was something other judges at the courthouse had noticed.
“You have a client that, to say the least, is not impressing the judges on is court … at being all that cooperative,” he said. “This way of doing business needs to stop.”
He said this was the first open-records case he’d seen where time was so much of the essence, given Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy for the White House, and said the administration needed to realize that.
Judge Leon said he’d release a written order laying out terms for the release of the 450 documents, and when when Mr. Lee tried to ask a question the judge announced the hearing was over and rushed off the dais, leaving the lawyers confounded.
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment, citing the ongoing case as a reason to keep silent.
The State Department didn’t provide a response to a request for comment.
• Stephen Dinan can be reached at email@example.com.
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