(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that newly revealed testimony from the Obama State Department under court order directly ties Hillary Clinton, for the first time, to the now-debunked Benghazi talking points used by United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice to claim that the attack was the result of a “spontaneous protest” gone awry. The Obama administration also sent false talking points about the attack to Congress. The State Department is refusing to divulge the contents of the email, citing a discretionary “deliberative process” privilege.
Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information (FOIA) lawsuit in July 2014 seeking records related to the drafting and use of the talking points (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:14-cv-01242)). The lawsuit sought records specifically from Hillary Clinton and her top State Department staff about the Benghazi talking points scandal:
Copies of any updates and/or talking points given to Ambassador Rice by the White House or any federal agency concerning, regarding, or related to the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Any and all records or communications concerning, regarding, or relating to talking points or updates on the Benghazi attack given to Ambassador Rice by the White House or any federal agency
The litigation forced the State Department to request government-related emails from former Clinton Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills, Deputy Chief of Staff Huma Abedin, and senior aide Jake Sullivan. Sullivan and Mills provided documents to the State Department responsive to Judicial Watch’s request on June 26. Abedin has yet to comply with the request from State in Judicial Watch’s case.
One of the documents identified by the State Department from Sullivan includes an email chain from September 29, 2012, which discussed the talking points, and was originally included in the 55,000 pages of documents Clinton provided to the State Department. The initial email was sent to Clinton’s secret email account and to Mills, while the follow-up was sent by Mills to Sullivan and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Strategic Communications Philippe Reines.
However, an unnamed agency staffer initially determined at an unknown time that a “talking points” email was not relevant to Judicial Watch’s request for emails about the Benghazi “talking points.” The Clinton email then was withheld from Judicial Watch. Confusingly, the State Department, in a declaration that “the later message [turned over by Sullivan on June 26] in the email chain, which was not sent to former Secretary Clinton, made it clear that one portion of the earlier message had, indeed, been discussing the talking points given to Ambassador Rice.”
The State Department, nevertheless, is withholding the emails under the “deliberative process” exemption to FOIA disclosure. The State Department alleges that the release of Hillary Clinton’s Benghazi email chain “could reasonably be expected to chill the frank deliberations that occur when senior staff are preparing points or other draft remarks for use by senior Department officials in addressing a matter of public controversy.”
Even though it is known that official State Department business was being conducted, the State Department is also refusing to disclose the email domain names of Clinton’s top aides: Mills, Sullivan and Abedin.
Despite these revelations, including an acknowledgement that top Clinton aide Huma Abedin may still produce documents, the State Department requested that a federal court dismiss Judicial Watch’s lawsuit, arguing that it has executed a “reasonable” search of agency records relevant to Judicial Watch’s request.
Judicial Watch has argued that despite assertions to the contrary, the State Department has not executed a reasonable search of all documents relevant to Judicial Watch’s request. While the agency claims to have searched the 55,000 pages of records turned over by Mrs. Clinton, it has refused to recover and search the records kept by Mrs. Clinton on her secret email server. Per the Federal Records Act and other federal records laws, the State Department has a responsibility as a federal agency to obtain these records and search them in accordance with Judicial Watch’s FOIA request. The State Department is refusing to provide any information about Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of State Department records and why it never disclosed to the court or Judicial Watch that it knew Mrs. Clinton had taken government records. The State Department also refuses to take any steps to recover, preserve, and search all the emails on Hillary Clinton’s secret government email server, which contains emails from multiple State officials, President Obama, and foreign leaders.
“Now we have smoking gun proof of Hillary Clinton’s involvement in the lying Benghazi ‘talking points’ used by Susan Rice. Only the pressure of our litigation exposed this extraordinary revelation and thwarted the State Department’s desperate cover-up of this information. The Obama administration wants to keep this astonishing talking points document secret. That may serve the interests of Hillary Clinton’s political efforts, but it is contrary to the law and shows contempt for the people’s right to know,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “The Obama State Department’s refusal to search the government records Hillary Clinton and her aides purloined demonstrates the need for intervention from the courts, not the dismissal of lawsuits seeking to preserve, recover, and search these hidden emails. We can’t even trust the State Department to disclose incriminating emails it does have from Hillary Clinton. It is urgent the rule of law be enforced at that rogue agency.”