Response for FOIA request was ‘abruptly’ changed from spring 2016 to late November 2016
While Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton has publicly reversed her position on the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), it remains unknown how much she helped advance, or even craft, the international trade deal while serving as U.S. Secretary of State—and the Obama administration appears interested in keeping it that way.
On Monday, International Business Times (IBT) senior editor David Sirota reported that the State Department is refusing to release correspondence between Clinton’s State Department office and the United States Trade Representative related to the TPP until after the 2016 presidential election.
After initially saying that the requested materials would be made available in April, a U.S. State Department representative “abruptly” told Sirota last week, “Our office was recently informed that the search process has been completed and that the information located from that search is currently being prepared for the review process. The new estimated completion date for your request is November 31 [sic], 2016.”
As Sirota notes, “IBT’s request was designed to provide a comprehensive view of how involved Clinton and her top aides were in shaping the trade agreement, and whether her agency had a hand in crafting any particular provisions in the pact.”
He further notes that “[t]he delay was issued in the same week the Obama administration filed a court motion to try to kill a lawsuit aimed at forcing the federal government to more quickly comply with open records requests for Clinton-era State Department documents.”
This is not the only query related to Clinton’s emails that the State Department has suspiciously postponed until after the election. VICE News journalist Jason Koebler wrote last month that the “estimated completion time” for his request of “communications, presentations, and procedures created by the State Department to secure Hillary Clinton’s email from electronic threats” was moved from January 2015 to December 2016.
Given that the initial FOIA request was made by the IBT in July 2015, even if the delay itself isn’t “politically motivated,” Nate Jones of the National Security Archive, a nonprofit investigative journalism center based at George Washington University, told Sirota that it reflects a systemic problem.
“In my opinion it is more incompetence than maliciousness, but either way, it is a gross error by FOIA processors to not get these documents out before the election,” Jones said. “Their inefficiency is doing great harm to the democratic process.”