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Here's What to Expect From Tomorrow's Release of Hillary Clinton's Emails

The initial cache of emails will be released Tuesday, and there should — in theory — be few significant redactions from the State Department.
June 29, 2015, 6:15pm
Photo by Andrew Gombert/EPA

The State Department expects its website to be overloaded Tuesday with visits from journalists, lawmakers, and curious members of the public who will be weeding through the first batch of Hillary Clinton's emails in search of juicy bits of information about her tenure as Secretary of State.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by VICE News, a federal judge ordered State last month to begin releasing the 55,000 pages of Clinton's emails on a monthly basis starting Tuesday. The State Department said it will post the emails on its website; it expects to finish releasing the emails by January 26, days before the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.

Beyond newsworthy details contained in the emails, open government advocates said they will be closely watching to see the extent of the redactions the State Department uses in the emails.

Related: Judge Orders State Department to Release Clinton Emails on Rolling Basis

Daniel Metcalfe, the founding director of the Justice Department's Office of Information Policy (OIP), the office that is supposed to ensure other government agencies are adhering to the attorney general's FOIA guidelines, said the public should not be too excited by the email disclosures.

"These are, after all, only what her legal team deemed 'appropriate' for inclusion to State," Metcalfe told VICE News.

With that said, Metcalfe said attention should be paid to whether State withholds emails citing national security or "intelligence sources and methods," as they would likely "undermine her judgement" and would be a "credibility weakness" for Clinton. Clinton said earlier this year that none of the emails she turned over to the State Department contained classified information.

"Overall, I'd also try to get some sense, proportion-wise, of the total volume of withholding, with particular focus on any page withheld in its entirety," Metcalfe said. "Any amount of withholding that is substantial will readily put a lie to [Clinton's] expressed wish that 'it all be disclosed.'"

Nate Jones, a FOIA expert at George Washington University's National Security Archive, said he too will be looking for how much is redacted under Exemption 1.

"It should be very little," he told VICE News. "The emails were unclassified, so it will be eyebrow-raising if any more content is retroactively classified by State. Even more importantly, I will be carefully scrutinizing the information withheld under the catch-all, discretionary, "withhold it because you want to" Exemption 5. It will be extremely troubling if State wastes its resources to unnecessarily censor 'deliberative process' emails which Clinton herself stated she wants released."

Steven Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, told VICE News that he believes Clinton's emails will not reveal "anything surprising or unexpected, let alone compromising" due to the fact that they were "heavily curated" by her staff.

Already, evidence has surfaced suggesting that Clinton has not turned over to State all of her work-related emails that were housed on a private server in her home. Last week, the State Department said that emails Clinton confidante Sidney Blumenthal had sent her, in which he offered her intelligence advice about Libya, were not included in the cache her staff gave the State Department last year.

A House committee investigating the attack on the US diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, had independently obtained the emails from Blumenthal. State Department spokesman John Kirby said during a press briefing last week that the agency doesn't know "the degree to which there may be other [Clinton] emails that another third party may have… that we do not have."

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Metcalfe said what the Blumenthal emails show "is that (a), they [Clinton's staff] devoted great care about what they did not include [when her emails were turned over to State], and (b), they likely did not include anything of any greater sensitivity than what they excluded of his set."

Kirby told reporters there would not be an investigation into the matter.

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. Metcalfe and other open government experts suggested that Clinton's decision to use her personal email was an attempt to thwart FOIA requests. Under federal law, 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 she 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."

During a news conference at the United Nations after the story broke, Clinton said 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 said after her staff separated the emails they deemed to be official government business, they destroyed the remainder of the emails.

Related: What Hillary Clinton and the State Department Didn't Say About Her Emails

In a declaration filed in response to VICE News' FOIA lawsuit, John Hackett, a top State Department FOIA official, said 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