By Julian Hattem - 09/22/15 01:50 PM EDT
A federal judge on Tuesday scolded Obama administration lawyers for dragging their feet in handing over documents from top aides to Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonEconomists argue for taxing trades Sanders signs autographs as Clinton makes surprise showing on stage Coincidence? Obama spoke for 44 minutes, Clinton for 42 MORE.
Judge Emmet Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for The District of Columbia suggested that the State Department needs to divert resources to deal with the onslaught of lawsuits seeking to get a hold of emails from Clinton, Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills.
“There has to be some reallocation of resources. There has to be,” he told a pair of government lawyers. “Because these are atypical cases.”
“This case is important to the public,” Sullivan added. “The public is clamoring for the information. Everybody is clamoring for the information.
“You have to find the resources.”
The case is one of dozens of lawsuits against the department that seek information that involves Clinton’s emails.
In the case, launched by conservative advocacy group Citizens United, government lawyers had attempted to delay the deadline for them to hand over documents until at least December.
Though even that was merely a “hope date,” Department of Justice Lawyer Caroline Anderson said.
The government wouldn’t be able to send out the documents until it had a chance to fully upload them into its digital system, search for the requested terms and then do a line-by-line search to see whether the emails were relevant or needed to be classified for one reason or the other.
But the case has lingered for months, and lawyers representing Citizens United accused the government of doing little to speed up the process.
“The government knew in the summer of this year that they had a problem, but they waited,” Matthew McGill told the judge.
Citizens United's case asked for correspondence between Clinton's former chief of staff Mills, longtime aide Abedin and officials from the Clinton Foundation as well as correspondence about Abedin's part-time work for a consulting firm while also working in the State Department.
There are more than 30 lawsuits pending against the State Department seeking to enforce Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for some combination of the tens of thousands of emails from Clinton and other top aides during their time at the State Department.
The email requests have been complicated by the revelation earlier this year that Clinton relied exclusively on a personal email address housed on a private server during her tenure as secretary of State. Abedin, Mills and other top aides also used personal email accounts during their time assisting Clinton.
In response, the emails have grown to consume a larger and larger portion of work for the 63 full-time employees and one part-timer that the State Department employs to respond to FOIA requests. The department has also brought on the part-time help of 40 Foreign Service officers to assist in the search.
“It’s not business as usual,” government Lawyer Elizabeth Shapiro told Sullivan.
While it would be easy enough to speed up one request, everyone who has filed lawsuits has asked for theirs to be done first. Meanwhile, the pace of FOIA requests hasn’t stopped.
It’s “very different when these obligations are multiplied times 30,” Shapiro admitted.
State Department officials were working “really demoralizing, crushing hours” on nights and weekends to keep up with the demands of the court cases, she said.
“Everybody works weekends and nights,” Sullivan retorted.
Sullivan ordered the department to finish uploading Abedin's and Mills’s emails and conduct an initial search on them by next Friday.