Judge scolds administration for missing deadline on Clinton emails

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A federal judge scolded the Obama administration on Tuesday for violating its pledge to release all of Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonWhy some Republican women won't be voting for Trump Black Lives Matter leader: Dem convention protests possible Cutting corners in a federal campaign is criminal MORE's emails by the end of last month. 

The State Department won't be able to make public even a portion of the remaining 7,000 pages of Clinton's emails until at least late next week, an administration lawyer said in a courtroom on Tuesday afternoon.

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Trying to speed up the process, attorney Robert Prince warned, may only delay things further.

“Government has put me between a rock and a hard place,” Judge Rudolph Contreras of the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia said in response, “which is a position I don’t want to be in.” 

Contreras can either “force them to disclose” the documents which have yet to undergo full redaction process, he said, or else risk further delaying release of the emails.

As it is, the remaining 3,700 emails from Clinton’s archive — which add up to roughly 7,000 pages — are not due to be released to the public until the day before Super Tuesday, the day 13 states hold their presidential primary or caucuses. 

Tuesday’s court hearing came as primary voters head to the polls in New Hampshire. Clinton is currently the front-runner for the Democratic nomination after winning the Iowa caucuses, but she trails rival Bernie SandersBernie SandersCutting corners in a federal campaign is criminal Sanders is only helping Trump by staying in the race 'Feel Bern' PAC comes under scrutiny MORE by double digits in New Hampshire polls, according to RealClearPolitics

The State Department has been posting batches of Clinton’s 30,000 work-related emails to its website every month since last May, in response to a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) launched by Vice News reporter Jason Leopold.

But last month, the administration said that it would not be able to release the final tranche of emails by the due date of Jan. 29. The government overlooked thousand of emails that needed to go through the redaction process, it claimed at the time, and would be further delayed by a snowstorm that blanketed the East Coast. 

Before release, the emails need to be sent from the State Department to a dozen other government agencies for review and potentially request that information be redacted. After that, the State Department needs to compile the recommendations and prepare to post them on the Internet.

Lawyers for Leopold have suggested that the final batch of emails may be “the most controversial,” since they need to go through multiple agencies before release.

Of the 3,700 emails yet to be released, 2,000 are still at other agencies, the administration said on Tuesday. Only 570 emails are ready to be posted to the Internet. 

Yet even those could not be online until at least Feb. 18, Prince told the court.

“I don’t think that’s at all possible” to put even that small portion of the remaining emails online in the next week, Prince added.

Not only does the posting process take “quite a while,” but the State Department uses the same staffers to review Clinton’s emails for redactions and to put the cleared versions online. 

Contreras on Tuesday was visibly frustrated at the government’s pace.

“That seems an unreasonably long period of time to post or get access to something that’s already past the clearances,” the judge said to the administration lawyer.

“It doesn’t sound like a lot,” he added. “I understand the system is complex, but that’s over a week’s time.

“These documents have a lot of public interest, and the timing is important.”

The Obama administration insisted that it would be even more difficult to make the emails public through a means other than its own website, such as by sending paper copies to the Vice News reporter or by having them viewed in person.

“I don’t think it would be any faster,” Prince said.

In fact, it “could slow down things,” he said.

The Obama administration suggested that it release one batch of emails on Feb. 18 and the final portion on Feb. 29.

Lawyers for Leopold, the reporter who sued to force the release of Clinton’s emails, rejected the government’s argument.

Instead, Ryan James suggested that the State Department release all of the emails sooner than its new Feb. 29 due date. But Contreras acknowledged that that doesn’t seem “feasible” because many of the emails were still in the hands of other agencies.

Tuesday’s check-in ended without a resolution to the case. 

Instead, Contreras ordered the Obama administration to explain in writing by the end of the day on Wednesday why it cannot release the already-cleared emails before Feb. 18.

“I’ll decide based on that information," he said. “But the department should expect to produce something on the 18th — if not sooner.”

By the end of the week, he added, the Obama administration needs to provide a “detailed explanation of how this problem arose, what cause it and why it wasn’t noticed until just recently.”