For a president who claimed he wanted to run the most transparent administration in U.S. history, Barack Obama picked one remarkably opaque secretary of state.
Before piling on Hillary Clinton, though, let’s consider the sorry practices of the agency she led. On Wednesday, the Associated Press filed a lawsuit to obtain mountains of documents connected to her four-year tenure as the nation’s chief diplomat, including schedules and records that might point to cronyism.
The lawsuit reveals a culture of secrecy at the State Department. The department has been stalling for more than a year and a half on AP requests for records under the Freedom of Information Act. One AP request is five years old.
According to The New York Times, the State Department takes about 450 days to turn over records in complex cases, seven times longer than the CIA and 30 times longer than the Treasury Department.
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The department’s spokesman has complained that it gets thousands of FOIA requests a year, 19,000 last year. But please — 19,000 not a crushing load in a wealthy nation of more than 300 million people.
Let’s say that one employee could handle 50 requests over the course of a year, one a week. It would then take 380 people to process 19,000 requests. The State Department probably has more than 380 employees sweeping the floors at its embassies.
Clinton herself went far above and beyond the usual bureaucratic call of obfuscation.
When she took office in early 2009, she deliberately chose to conduct all of her official unclassified email correspondence on a private account hosted on a private server in a house she owned in Chappaqua, New York. None of her recent predecessors — perhaps none, period — had so systematically sequestered official correspondence in a personally controlled archive.
Clinton knew this was a big deal; in 2011, she ordered her own State Department employees not to conduct official business on private email accounts. Although she claimed at a news conference Tuesday that she “fully complied with every rule I was governed by,” she didn’t comply with her own rule. Nor did she comply with a White House directive to the same effect.
Nor did she comply with a National Archives regulation calling for federal employees to preserve official documents on “the appropriate agency record-keeping system.”
The reason for all this subterfuge? Just “convenience,” as she put it Tuesday. She didn’t want to lug around a second phone or blackberry for private business. Yet lots of other people manage to run multiple email accounts on a single device, and she herself told a tech gathering last month that she now carries four devices.
It wasn’t until last December — almost two years after Clinton left office — that she turned over 30,490 official emails (on 55,000 hard-to-process printed pages). By then, Obama had signed a law that made it explicitly illegal to privately stash electronic documents.
But Clinton retained more than 31,000 emails that she insists were purely personal in nature. She asks the public to trust her; she rejects the idea of having a neutral arbiter examine the ones she withheld.
In any case, she says she’s deleted those emails, every one of which was about things like her mother’s funeral and her daughter’s wedding. What’s not to trust? Nothing to see here, folks; move along, move along.