The State Department argued at a federal hearing Thursday that its ability to process the 100,000 Hillary Clinton emails ordered released under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit has been hindered by a lack of manpower due to a "hiring freeze" and that the urgency to release the documents has been diminished by the public's lack of interest in the subject, according to the watchdog group that won the lawsuit for the document's release.
But Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group that sued the State Department in May 2015 for the thousands of emails and documents, isn't buying it.
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton is accusing the State Department of slow-rolling the emails being sent from the FBI to the State Department, a large number of which Clinton "failed to disclose" to the government when she served as secretary of state, he said.
On July 15, the FBI allegedly turned over to the State Department a new disk of emails belonging to former Clinton aide Huma Abedin. The emails were apparently discovered on a laptop owned by Abedin's estranged husband, Anthony Weiner. Weiner pleaded guilty in May to sending a number of text messages and sexually explicit pictures last year to a 15-year-old girl in North Carolina.
There apparently are 7,000 emails from Abedin on Weiner's laptop, said Fitton, who added that State Department and Justice Department lawyers are "claiming they have to appraise them, whether they are personal or government, and then sift through what can be shared publicly."
State Department spokeswoman Pooja Jhunjhunwala told Circa "the Department takes its records management responsibilities seriously and is working diligently to process FOIA requests and to balance the demands of the many requests we have received."
"We are devoting significant resources to meeting our litigation obligations," she added.
The State Department was ordered in November to process documents at the rate of 500 pages per month, but "at that rate it would take until 2020 for the bulk to made public," Fitton said. So far, the State Department has produced 17 batches of documents, Fitton said.
"President Trump needs to direct his agencies to follow the the law but right now they are making a mockery of it by saying they won't finish releasing it until 2020," said Fitton, whose group will be heading back to court three months from now to assess the progress. "I can understand the president's frustration because he wanted these made public. However, his Justice and State departments are making excuses of why they have to slow-roll it this way."
Trump has made numerous assertions about Clinton and her email server. In June, he tweeted that Clinton destroyed her phones and "bleached" her emails.
Crooked H destroyed phones w/ hammer, 'bleached' emails, & had husband meet w/AG days before she was cleared- & they talk about obstruction?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 15, 2017
But the president's own Justice Department civil attorneys argued Thursday that there was "diminished public interest" in the emails.
A U.S. official familiar with the case and the agencies told Circa on the condition that they not be named that "there are still holdovers within the departments that don't want to see these emails released, so slow-rolling these requests makes perfect sense. If the president wants these emails released then he will have to demand that the agencies abide."
Last week, Judicial Watch released 448 pages of documents the State Department did turn over from Abedin, describing what it said was preferential treatment "to major donors to the Clinton Foundation and political campaigns," according to the group.
"The documents included six Clinton email exchanges not previously turned over to the State Department, bringing the known total to date to at least 439 emails that were not part of the 55,000 pages of emails that Clinton turned over to the State Department, and further contradicting a statement by Clinton that, 'as far as she knew,' all of her government emails had been turned over to the State Department," the watchdog group stated in a July 14 press release.