Feds ask for 27-month delay in release of Clinton staff emails

Feds ask for 27-month delay in release of Clinton staff emails
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The Obama administration on Thursday asked a federal court to delay until October 2018 the release of 14,000 pages of emails from aides to former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies DNC, RNC step up cyber protections Gun proposal picks up GOP support MORE.

In a court filing on Wednesday, administration lawyers said the State Department miscalculated the amount of material it would need to process the documents as part of a lawsuit with the conservative organization Citizens United.

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As a result, the government asked for a 27-month delay to release the emails, which were originally due out on July 21.

“State deeply regrets these errors, and is working diligently to correct them as quickly as possible,” the lawyers said.

Citizens United has sued for emails between a handful of State Department officials and people at the Clinton Foundation and a consulting firm, Teneo Consulting, which has ties to the Clintons.

Among other errors, State officials said than an initial test looking at just 300 emails, which was used to calculate the amount of time necessary to process the emails, neglected to include keyword searches of the messages. Instead, they only searched the “To” and “From” lines of the messages, which failed to catch many emails.

State Department officials also “inadvertently” labeled some email attachments as irrelevant to the open records request, without checking them to make sure.

The department has long had reputation for responding slowly to requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), with delays spanning years.

But the demands have grown dramatically as Clinton has proceeded through the presidential election process, and the department's current estimates can sometimes seem comically long.

In a separate case involving the Republican National Committee, the State Department estimated that it could take at least 75 years to compile emails from a handful of Clinton’s aides.

A department spokesman later defended the estimate as “not outlandish.”

“There's been dramatic, significant surge in FOIA requests to the State Department in recent years, which we are working very, very hard to clear and to respond to,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Thursday, while declining to discuss the Citizens United case in particular.

Since 2008, he added, the number of FOIA requests to State has tripled. In fiscal year 2015 alone, the department has received 22,000 separate requests.

“The other thing I'd say is that these requests are also frequently more complex, and increasingly seeking larger volumes of documents requiring more time, more resources, and frankly more interagency coordination,” Kirby said.

In the Citizens United case, the department has assigned four new staffers to work on the request part-time. But most of them are also working on several other cases, the Obama administration said in its court filing, and their ability to comb through emails has been slowed by their “relative inexperience.”

As the requests under the Freedom of Information Act have shot up, so too have the number lawsuits filed against the department for slow responses.

- Updated at 6:20 p.m.