Lawsuit for Possible State Department “Wrongdoing or Bad Faith” in Benghazi

Judicial Watch asked a federal court for additional discovery over the Clinton email issue.  In addition to document requests, the new Revised Discovery Proposal asks for depositions from Clinton, Clinton aide Cheryl Mills and eight other State Department officials in order to explore “evidence of wrongdoing or bad faith with respect to State Department’s response” to Judicial Watch’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request as well as some earlier FOIA requests.

The January 10 filing is the latest move in a July 2014 FOIA lawsuit by Judicial Watch seeking records related to the drafting and use of the Benghazi talking points (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:14-cv-01242)).  This lawsuit forced the Clinton email issue into the public eye in early 2015.

In March 2016, U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth granted “limited discovery” to Judicial Watch, ruling that “where there is evidence of government wrong-doing and bad faith, as here, limited discovery is appropriate, even though it is exceedingly rare in FOIA cases.” In May 2016, Judicial Watch filed an initial Proposed Order for Discovery seeking written and oral information. The State Department opposed Judicial Watch’s proposal, and in December, Judge Lamberth requested both parties to file new proposed orders in light of information discovered in various venues since last May.

In last week’s filing, Judicial Watch informed the court that despite repeated conferences with the State Department, they had been “unable to reach agreement on a discovery proposal” and that “Defendant [State Department] is unwilling to agree to any discovery at all in this action.”  Judicial Watch’s new discovery proposal focuses on “two main areas:”

These areas are: (i) evidence of wrongdoing or bad faith with respect to State Department’s response to Plaintiff’s FOIA request for records related to the talking points provided to U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice following the September 11, 2012 Benghazi attack and (ii) potential remedies that may ensure a sufficient search for responsive records is undertaken…

Judicial Watch’s Revised Discovery Proposal seeks both documents and depositions. The documents requested include:

  1. All documents that concern or relate to the processing of any and all searches of the Office of the Secretary for emails relating to the September 11, 2012 Benghazi attack and its aftermath…
  1. All communications that concern or relate to the processing of all searches referenced in Document Request No. 1 above, including directions or guidance about how and where to conduct the searches…
  1. All records that concern or relate to the State Department’s policies, practices, procedures and/or actions (or lack thereof) to secure, inventory, and/or account for all records…
  1. Plaintiff requests copies of the attached records [previously obtained by Judicial Watch] with the Exemption 5 redactions removed…

In addition to documents, Judicial Watch seeks depositions, including a deposition of Hillary Clinton to learn:

[the] identification of individuals (whether State Department officials, other government officials, or third-parties, including but not limited to Sidney Blumenthal) with whom Secretary Clinton may have communicated by email.

Judicial Watch also seeks to depose former Clinton aides, including Cheryl Mills, chief of staff; Jacob Sullivan, Deputy Chief of Staff and Director of Policy Planning; Heather Samuelson, head of the White House Liaison Office; Lauren Jiloty, Special Assistant; and Monica Hanley, confidential assistant. Also on the list is Clarence Finney, currently Deputy Director of the State Department’s Executive Secretariat Staff; Sheryl L. Walter, who was Director of the Office of Information Program and Services; and Gene Smilansky, a department lawyer.

“The Obama State Department continues to obstruct court-ordered efforts to gather the facts from Secretary Hillary Clinton and her top aides about how their email practices obstructed the American’s people right to know what really happened in Benghazi,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “The Trump administration must now decide whether to reverse course on this desperate, last minute obstruction.”

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The motto of Judicial Watch is “Because no one is above the law”. To this end, Judicial Watch uses the open records or freedom of information laws and other tools to investigate and uncover misconduct by government officials and litigation to hold to account politicians and public officials who engage in corrupt activities.