State Dept. ordered to justify redacting 200 Clinton emails

The State Department will soon have to produce more information about Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocratic debates are magnet for lobbyists NYT editorial board endorses Warren, Klobuchar for Democratic nomination for president Sanders v. Warren is just for insiders MORE's emails that it has chosen to redact or withhold entirely.

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A federal judge on Thursday gave the agency until Oct. 28 to produce a document known as a “Vaughn Index” — used to justify a decision to withhold information requested under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request — for 200 emails that passed through Clinton's private server.

The conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, which has brought a bevy of FOIA lawsuits against the State Department regarding Clinton’s use of the unorthodox email setup when she was secretary of State, will get to choose which documents it wants the department to provide rational for. 

Vaughn Indices are important because they allow people seeking public information to challenge the government’s decisions to keep certain documents locked up.

But District Judge James E. Boasberg  stopped short of giving Judicial Watch everything it wanted.

The watchdog group petitioned to have the department provide a Vaughn Index for all of Clinton’s emails already public in some form on the department’s website. The government was able to successfully argue that such a request would be unduly burdensome because of the sheer number of emails it has published.

Clinton's emails total more than 50,000 pages and include around 2,000 messages that have been redacted because they contain material that is deemed classified. Forty-two pages have been withheld in full, according to State Department lawyers.

State testified on Thursday that it is negotiating over Vaughn Indices in only one of those cases —  a lawsuit brought by the reporter whose original FOIA opened up the emails — but it anticipates the documents will become part of the conversation in others.

“I don’t want to fall into the trap of ordering everyone to work on a case just because it’s mine,” Boasberg said, noting that there are more than 100 other FOIA suits related to the former secretary of State’s emails, not all of which involve Judicial Watch.

“On the other hand, I think given the public interest and what I consider a fairly small sample request, I think [90 days] is reasonable,” he said.

Judicial Watch has two weeks to provide the State Department with a list of redacted or withheld documents for which it wants to see a Vaughn Index.

The watchdog group also wanted the agency to create documentation for each newly discovered email that it processes — including a trove of “several thousand” deleted messages the FBI found and will release to the department.

But lawyers for the State Department said Thursday that the agency has yet to receive those documents from the FBI, and Boasberg declined to weigh in until the documents had been received and Judicial Watch and the department could negotiate.