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The State Department Just Dumped Another Batch of Hillary Clinton’s Emails

Clinton's emails are being released on a monthly basis in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by VICE News.

by Jason Leopold
Jul 31 2015, 6:15pm

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

This afternoon the US State Department released the third batch of emails that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton sent and received from her private account during her tenure as secretary of state. 

The 1,356 newly released emails contain discussions concerning the prosecution of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-conspirators in federal court, the transfer of detainees from the US base at Guantanamo to Belgium, and a controversy surrounding a speech about combatting sexual violence she gave in which she said that rape was used as a tactic in armed conflicts in countries like Sri Lanka. In one email response to Clinton in November 2009, then-Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill described Iraqis as a "collective pain in the neck" and "I truly remain worried about people."

Sandy Berger, former national security adviser during Bill Clinton's presidency, emailed Clinton on September 19, 2009 about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, referred to in the email by the kunya Abu Mazen. Berger's email, sent four days before President Obama's speech before the United Nations in which he noted he would work towards a two-state solution, centered around Israeli settlements and portraying Netanyahu as an "obstacle" to peace. 

"The objective is to try shift the fulcrum of our current relations with Bibi [Netanyahu]  from settlements -- where he thinks he has the upper hand -- to ground where there is greater understanding in Israel of the American position and where we can make him uneasy about incurring our displeasure. Ironically, his intransigence over 67 borders may offer us that possibility to turn his position against him," Berger wrote. 

He emailed her again on the eve of Obama's speech. 

"Going forward, if Bibi [Netanyahu] continues to be the obstacle, you will need to find the ground from which you can make his politics uneasy," Berger wrote. "I think you can do that even with current concerns in Israel about US posture. But it will be easier as we rebuild trust so that our future admonitions are accepted. (An HRC trip there to reframe perceptions?). Finally, need to be mindful of Abu Mazen's politics. Taking a lot of criticism for meeting with Bibi without settlement freeze."

A State Department spokesman said portions of 37 of Clinton's emails were retroactively classified because it contains national security information. The State Department retroactively classified two-dozen emails last month. 

Clinton's emails are being released on a monthly basis in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by VICE News. The State Department said that it expects to finish releasing the emails by January 26, just ahead of the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. The State Department failed to abide by the court order requiring the department to release at least 15 percent of Clinton's emails every month. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said it was due to the stepped-up security review of Clinton's emails. He acknowledged the State Department "fell short this month" and promised to make up for the "gap."

Last week, it emerged that inspectors general at the State Department and the US Intelligence Community concluded that a sample review of her emails found that dozens of her electronic communications likely contain classified information. The matter has since been referred to the Department of Justice for review.

Clinton has repeatedly denied that she sent or received classified information over her email account, which was connected to a private server operated out of her home in New York. 

Related: Hillary Clinton Sought Advice on Afghanistan From Former Bill Clinton Advisors

The department released the second batch of Clinton's emails last month. While that collection of correspondence fell short of controversy, it revealed that the nation's top diplomat was on the fence about hot-button issues such as the controversial troop surge in Afghanistan, and showed that she regularly consulted outside advisors for guidance on foreign policy issues, including the US base at Guantanamo. In one email, longtime Clinton family confidante Sidney Blumenthal told Clinton to never publicly discuss the CIA's torture program.

In a letter he emailed her on June 14, 2009, a time when new revelations about the CIA's torture program were surfacing, Blumenthal briefed Clinton about an article that New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer had written about the torture program, saying that her story contained "many moving and uncontrolled parts… which has become chronic and will flare up again and again."

"The 'distraction' will not go away," Blumenthal wrote, advising Clinton to "avoid ever being drawn into commenting on any aspect."

The emails showed that the questions Clinton raised about certain issues and her responses were often limited to a single sentence. The emails also contained quirky tidbits, such as a discussion about how to use a fax machine and questions about why people were "Twittering" at Clinton.

The State Department again redacted large swaths of information in the new batch of emails it released, often citing a privacy exemption and an exemption that protects the so-called "deliberative process" — meaning the process through which the government formulates decisions and policies. The emails also contained redactions in which the State Department withheld information on the basis of a national security exemption.

Related: Why the US Refuses to Release a Draft of a Speech Hillary Clinton Gave 6 Years Ago

Clinton has been ensnared in controversy over her use of private emails since last March, and it has already taken a toll on her presidential campaign, according to opinion polls.

Additionally, Politico reported Thursday that Clinton's private attorney, David Kendall, who defended former CIA Director David Petraeus against charges that he mishandled classified information, has a thumb drive containing classified information from five US intelligence agencies that were included in Clinton's email stash. 

The email controversy also extends to Clinton's former staffers at the State Department. Philippe Reines, her long-time spokesperson, turned over 20 boxes of work-related emails to the State Department this week from his private email account, Politico reported. Clinton's personal assistant, Huma Abedin, also used a private email account linked to Clinton's server.

The State Department has also been engulfed in the controversy. A federal judge rebuked the agency this week for failing to respond to FOIA requests filed four years ago by the Associated Press for Clinton-related documents. The wire service has since sued the State Department.

"I want to find out what's been going on over there. I should say, what's not been going on over there," said US District Court Judge Richard Leon during a court hearing last week.

Government attorneys blamed VICE News's FOIA lawsuit requesting access to Clinton's emails for their inability to estimate when they could produce documents to the AP, specifically records about Abedin.

"In order to come up with an estimate [of time for releasing documents to AP], the State Department will have to divert resources from the [VICE News] search," Justice Department attorney Lisa Ann Olson said. "It has limited resources, an amazingly limited number of people."

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The New York Times first revealed in March that Clinton had exclusively used a private email account to conduct official government business during the four years she served as Secretary of State. Open government experts suggested that Clinton's decision to use her personal email was an attempt to thwart FOIA requests. Clinton's work-related emails are considered government records and are supposed to be preserved on the State Department's servers in accordance with the Federal Records Act so that journalists, historians, and the public can access them.

Clinton said that she had decided to use a private email account to conduct official business because it was "convenient."

The Times story immediately turned into a scandal for Clinton, who at the time hadn't yet formally announced her candidacy for president. Looking to quell the criticism, Clinton took to Twitter and said that she wanted the State Department to release all of her emails "as soon as possible."

Related: VICE News Fights for the Freedom of Information Act on Capitol Hill

During a news conference at the United Nations after the story broke, Clinton said that about half of the 60,000 emails she sent and received while working as the nation's top diplomat were "work-related," and the rest were personal. She revealed that after her staff separated the emails they deemed to be official government business, they destroyed the remaining emails.

In a declaration filed in response to VICE News's FOIA lawsuit, John Hackett, a top State Department FOIA official, said that Clinton turned over her emails in "paper form in 12 bankers' boxes" last December, and 12 department employees assigned to reviewing her emails had to hand scan all of them, which took five weeks to complete.

Hackett said Clinton's emails "are comprised of communications to or from the former Secretary of State, who was responsible for the overall direction and supervision of the full range of activities of the Department, which operates in approximately 285 locations around the globe."

Follow Jason Leopold on Twitter: @JasonLeopold