In an opinion lambasting both the Departments of State and Justice, a federal judge this week ordered further inquiries into Hillary Clinton’s emails as Secretary of State. Judicial Watch, a public interest group specializing in government open records research and litigation was granted the extraordinary order, which requires the two government departments to join it in submitting a proposed schedule for document discovery.
They are all required by U.S. District Court Judge Royce C. Lambert to cooperate in investigating whether Hillary Clinton used a private email system to stymie the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and whether the State Department acted in “bad faith” by attempting to settle a case despite knowing its disclosure was inadequate.
What Difference Does It Make?
The huge win for Judicial Watch came in response to their ongoing suit over a FOIA request related to the Battle of Benghazi. They sued the State Department in 2014 for documents discussing talking points sent to Susan Rice. Obama’s U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Ms. Rice was chosen by the administration to sell the (false) notion that Benghazi was a protest over the posting of an anti-Islamic video on YouTube. The Sunday after the battle, Rice went on all five big network news shows selling the attacks as a spontaneous violent reaction rather than the coordinated terrorist attack they knew it was. Judicial Watch has been working to uncover the root of that lie and expose its author(s), via the FOIA process.
Lamberth starts his decision with a three-paragraph quote from a memorandum President Obama signed on his first day in office regarding the Freedom of Information Act. Three paragraphs on the importance of openness, fidelity not just to the letter, but also the spirit of openness and transparency, “to usher in a new era of open Government [sic].” Lamberth said:
“[I]n this case, faced with one of the gravest modern offenses to government transparency, his State and Justice Departments fell far short. So far short that the Court questions, even now, whether they are acting in good faith.”
Negligence Born Out of Incompetence – At Best
Mincing no words, Lamberth calls the Department of State deceptive and uses his writing to lay out a summary of the case – which is a summary of bad acts by the State and Justice Departments that were designed to conceal and destroy the truth rather than produce it:
“At best, State’s attempt to pass-off its deficient search as legally adequate during settlement negotiations was negligence born out of incompetence. At worst, career employees in the State and Justice Departments colluded to scuttle public scrutiny of Clinton, skirt FOIA, and hoodwink this Court.”
Judge Lamberth is an iconoclast. From Hillary’s perspective, he might be the worst judge before whom this matter could be heard. You see, he has a history of being like a dog on a bone when it comes to government attempts at covering their own malfeasance. A Reagan appointee to the District Court for D.C., he was also Presiding Judge of the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) from 1995 to 2002. Lamberth’s rulings have made headlines before; in a case about massive mismanagement of Indian trust funds, he found both Interior Secretaries Gale Norton and Bruce Babbitt in contempt of court.
Lamberth has a shorter fuse than most federal judges – especially for government functionaries acting inappropriately. He was disciplined by his superiors on the D.C. Court of Appeals after calling out the Department of the Interior officials for endemic and systematic racism against American Indians. He called the Interior Department itself a “dinosaur – the morally and culturally oblivious hand-me-down of a disgracefully racist and imperialist government that should have been buried a century ago.”
Will this latest judicial beat-down get results? Will Donald Trump do anything to right the wrongs committed by executive departments that are now his? The court order requires a response in ten days. Then we will see if the State or Justice Departments have changed their tune with honest and forthright disclosures to the plaintiffs, Judicial Watch, and to the Court. If I were you, I wouldn’t hold my breath.