You might recall earlier this month, the State Department told the Republican National Committee that it would take approximately 75 years to fulfill an open records request seeking access to emails from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her aides. We are not exaggerating, a government lawyer actually wrote that it would take that long. Justin Sandberg, a DOJ attorney, said that they could only process about 500 pages a month. That translates to about 14 to 20 emails per work day. The government claims that the RNC’s FOIA request amounts to hundreds of thousands of emails and was “too burdensome” to fulfill.
Well, late Monday, attorneys for the RNC filed a pretty epic response. If you spend all day reading court documents (like myself), this was admittedly a good read. You can just sense the joy that the RNC’s lawyers, Edward Kang, Brian Boone (from Alston & Bird), and John Phillipe got from crafting a response to what they called a “tortoise-like” ability to fulfill their request. As far as 41-page cross-motions for summary judgment go, it was a page turner.
Here are some of their points:
- In response to the length of time it would take to fulfill a request: “We do not live in the era of quill pens or stagecoaches; just like private parties, the Government has access to sophisticated electronic search tools that make it possible to search large document sets with relative ease” the attorneys write. They pointed to the fact that the government sometimes makes private companies produce 47 GB of emails — which translates to about 4.8 million pages!
- “According to the agency, it must move at that snail’s pace regardless of whether the responsive emails reveal classified material or contain only a one-line lunch order or YouTube forward,” the attorneys write. The RNC attorneys are also concerned that state department officials are not being accurate about their actual response time. “In addition to proposing a tortoise-like review, the Government uses an illusion to exaggerate the purported burden created by the RNC’s requests,” they write. “But for that figure, the declaration provides no analysis, no facts, no foundation to explain how the Government arrive at that number”
- To demonstrate evidence of the government’s cavalier attitude to their request: RNC attorneys pointed to a press conference video which shows that the State Deparment’s own spokesman grinning when a reporter asked him why it would take 75 years to fulfill a FOIA request. “The video of (Mark) Toner’s response is revealing,” they write. Watch below:
- As far as precedent: RNC attorneys contend that if the court accepted the government’s response, it “would make it far too easy for government agencies to avoid FOIA’s disclosure requirements.”
The State Department, however, believes that the FOIA request filed by the RNC is completely unreasonable as it amounts to hundreds of thousands of pages of emails, and is overly broad. “The volume of FOIA requests received by the Department has tripled since 2008. In fiscal year 2015 alone we received approximately 22,000 FOIA requests,” a State Department spokesperson Elizabeth Trudeau said. “The requests are also frequently more complex and seek larger volumes of documents, requiring significantly more time, resources, and interagency coordination. While we have increased staffing for our FOIA office, our available resources are still nonetheless constrained.”
But the RNC attorneys believe that is no excuse. “Before November comes, the American people deserve to know, to the greatest extent possible, the uncensored truth about Secretary Clinton’s time at the State Department. The RNC carefully calibrated its search terms to capture records that will provide those important answers,” they write. LawNewz.com is following this case closely, and will update with a new post when the government responds.
Read the RNC’s Full Response: