JOSH GERSTEIN-- POLITICO
The first public sign of the email imbroglio now enveloping former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may have come more than a month ago in an obscure court filing in a lawsuit demanding details of Clinton’s response to the attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
Last year, government lawyers handling the case brought by the conservative group Judicial Watch told a federal judge that the agency had searched its files and had no more records to produce.
They changed their tune on Feb. 2.
”In the course of preparing additional information to provide to Plaintiff for purposes of settlement discussions, Defendant has discovered that additional searches for documents potentially responsive to the FOIA must be conducted,” the attorneys wrote.
The legal filing was one of the first indications that Clinton’s use of a personal email account to conduct business as secretary of state might complicate matters for parties wanting to know more about her official actions.
The flap that erupted this week looks to be a difficult one for Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, to shake anytime soon.
Clinton’s allies moved to douse the controversy by pointing to similar practices by her predecessors and to what her supporters say were murky government rules at the time.
But all signs Tuesday pointed toward a protracted legal morass as advocacy groups, the courts and Congress try to determine whether Clinton’s practice denied them access to critical information during her four years in the Obama Cabinet and thereafter.
Clinton aides and State Department officials argued that the impact of her use of personal email on the government’s permanent files was limited because she turned over 55,000 pages of the emails in December at the department’s request. They also contend that most of Clinton’s work-related emails were preserved on work accounts used by other officials.
However, those explanations overlook or minimize a series of problems caused by the personal email arrangement.
One is that searches of Clinton’s office files done for Congress, for Freedom of Information Act requests or for litigation may not have captured relevant emails if the recipient was outside Clinton’s immediate office and that account wasn’t part of the search. Work-related emails that went to parties outside the State Department or to aides’ personal accounts also would have been missed in these searches.
The leader of Judicial Watch reacted angrily Tuesday to word that Clinton’s own emails may have escaped scrutiny in the years of litigation the organization has pursued against the State Department over Benghazi and other issues.
“It’s a reckless approach to hiding material from the public,” said Tom Fitton. “We have dozens of FOIA requests and well over a dozen federal lawsuits in which this information is directly relevant. The government has never told us about this. In fact, in some cases they told us they looked through [Clinton’s] office and there was nothing to be found.”