An irritated federal judge Wednesday grilled the FBI for dragging its feet on her order to produce emails and text messages from former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe that may show conflicts of interest with his wife’s political campaign.
U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan said she simply did not understand why the FBI is slow-walking document production even after a May ruling ordering it to produce the materials.
Brenda Gonzalez Horowitz, an attorney for the FBI, said the bureau is producing 500 pages a month, a number Judge Chutkan slammed as “unacceptable.”
“I am not getting enough detail as to what has been done, why it hasn’t been done, and why you can’t go faster,” Judge Chutkan said. “I don’t even want to hear why you can’t go faster because 500 pages per month is unacceptable to me.”
Former FBI official Jeffrey Dankin in 2017 sued the bureau after it denied his Freedom of Information Act request for Mr. McCabe’s emails and text messages.
Specifically, Mr. Dankin is looking for any documents that indicate a potential conflict of interest between Mr. McCabe’s position at the bureau and his wife’s political campaign. Judicial Watch, an open government group, is representing Mr. Dankin in the lawsuit.
Jill McCabe unsuccessfully ran in 2016 as a Democrat for the Virginia state Senate. During her campaign, she accepted nearly $675,000 from groups connected to then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a close friend of 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
The donation occurred while the FBI was investigating Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email server as well as whether the Trump campaign was conspiring with Russia to influence the presidential election.
President Trump and his allies have said the donation may have been a quid pro quo that might explain why Mrs. Clinton was not criminally charged for her actions.
The McCabes have denied such claims.
Judge Chutkan, an appointee of President Obama, ordered the FBI in May to turn over all responsive records, which totaled 2,362 emails, some of which are 13 pages long, and 11 pages of text messages.
Ms. Gonzalez Horowitz said the bureau was moving rapidly, but the sheer volume of documents and other FOIA requests had slowed production of the McCabe materials, which she said total more than 30,000 pages.
When Ms. Gonzalez Horowitz said the FBI had not reviewed any documents since June, drew a stern rebuke from Judge Chutkan.
“For the government not to have reviewed any emails since June, if there is something that can be done remotely it is document review,” the judge said. “I don’t understand how five months have gone by and nothing has been reviewed.”
Ms. Gonzalez Horowitz responded that 500 pages per month is the standard production rate at the FBI, but Judge Chutkan shot back that she wasn’t the only judge who finds that rate “unacceptable.”
“I am concerned about the proposed production schedule,” Judge Chutkan said. “I am concerned about the lack of progress — that appears to me — has been made.”
Judge Chutkan ordered the FBI to issue a new proposal for moving forward with document production, saying it must include an explanation on why the bureau has been so slow to respond.
The bureau has until Nov. 20 to submit the new proposal to the court.