An Invitation to a Deposition: DC Court Judge Approves Extraordinary Procedure in FOIA Case

Posted: 10:18 am PT
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On May 4, U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan granted Judicial Watch to take testimony of former and current State Department employees in relation to an FOIA lawsuit related to the clintonemail. The Court notes that “discovery is rare in FOIA cases. Thomas v. FDA, 587 F. Supp. 2d 114, 115 (D.D.C. 2008) (Huvelle, J.) (noting that discovery is an extraordinary procedure in a FOIA action”). Discovery should be permitted, however, when a plaintiff raises a sufficient question as to the agency’s good faith in processing documents in response to a FOIA request.”

The Court writes:

[T]he circumstances surrounding approval of Mrs. Clinton’s use of clintonemail.com for official government business, as well as the manner in which it was operated, are issues that need to be explored in discovery to enable the Court to resolve, as a matter of law, the adequacy of the State Department’s search of relevant records in response to Judicial W atch’s FOIA request.
[…]
Having considered Plaintiff’s proposed plan, State’s response, Plaintiff’s reply, and the parties’ jointly proposed order, and recognizing that Defendant has not waived its objection to discovery, it is hereby ordered that:

The scope of permissible discovery shall be as follows: the creation and operation of clintonemail.com for State Department business, as well as the State Department’s approach and practice for processing FOIA requests that potentially implicated former Secretary Clinton’s and Ms. Abedin’s emails and State’s processing of the FOIA request that is the subject of this action. Plaintiff is not entitled to discovery on matters unrelated to whether State conducted an adequate search in response to Plaintiff’s FOIA request, including without limitation: the substantive information sought by Plaintiff in its FOIA request in this case, which involves the employment status of a single employee; the storage, handling, transmission, or protection of classified information, including cybersecurity issues; and any pending FBI or law enforcement investigations.

The court authorized Judicial Watch to seek the testimony of the following witnesses per court filing:

Stephen D. Mull Executive Secretary of the State Department from June 2009 to October 2012 and suggested that Mrs. Clinton be issued a State Department BlackBerry, which would protect her identity and would also be subject to FOIA requests. (Note that Ambassador Mull is a former U.S. Ambassador to Poland and the current Lead Coordinator for Iran Nuclear Implementation at the State Department).

Lewis A. Lukens Executive Director of the Executive Secretariat from 2008 to 2011 and emailed with Patrick Kennedy and Cheryl Mills about setting up a computer for Mrs. Clinton to check her clintonemail.com email account. (Note that Ambassador Lukens is a former U.S. Ambassador to Senegal and Guinea-Bissau and currently Diplomat in Residence responsible for recruitment and outreach for the State Department in Montana, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and northern California).

Patrick F. Kennedy Under Secretary for Management since 2007 and the Secretary of State’s principal advisor on management issues, including technology and information services. (Note that Ambassador Kennedy is now the longest serving Under Secretary of State for Management in the history of the State Department.  Besides Ronald Ian Spiers who served as “M” from 1983–1989, Kennedy would be the only other  Foreign Service Officer appointed to this position).

430(b)(6) deposition(s) of Defendant regarding the processing of FOIA requests, including Plaintiff’s FOIA request, for emails of Mrs. Clinton and Ms. Abedin both during Mrs. Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State and after;

Cheryl D. Mills Mrs. Clinton’s Chief of Staff throughout her four years as Secretary of State

Huma Abedin Mrs. Clinton’s Deputy Chief of Staff and a senior advisor to Mrs. Clinton throughout her four years as Secretary of State and also had an email account on clintonemail.com

Bryan Pagliano State Department Schedule C employee who has been reported to have serviced and maintained the server that hosted the “clintonemail.com” system during Mrs. Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State);

 

The court filing says that Judicial Watch reserves the right to seek the Court’s permission to take the deposition of Donald R. Reid at a later time, and State reserves the right to object. Reid is Senior Coordinator for Security infrastructure, Bureau of Diplomatic Security since 2003 and was involved in early discussions about Mrs. Clinton using her BlackBerry and other devices to conduct official State Department business. (Note that Mr. Reid’s Information Security responsibilities include the management of classified information programs, oversight of the Department’s Special Security Office, the operation of the Industrial Security program, and the investigation/resolution of security violations). 

Judicial Watch is granted 8 weeks to conduct its discovery plus a possible July surprise:  “Based on information learned during discovery, the deposition of Mrs. Clinton may be necessary. If Plaintiff believes Mrs. Clinton’s testimony is required, it will request permission from the Court at the appropriate time.”

Read the court ruling below; use the side scroll or maximize arrow at the lower right handside of the Cloudup box below. You may also read it here.

 

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The Back Room Deals That Got Roberta Jacobson Confirmed to be Ambassador to Mexico

Posted: 9:22 am PT
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According to WaPo, it took weeks of complex backroom dealing involving two key senators, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, former rivals in the Republican presidential primaries to end their hold on the Jacobson nomination.

As part of the deal, the State Department will have to produce 40 new reports a year on issues as diverse as Hong Kong autonomy, religious freedom and anti-Semitism. Government officials in Venezuela will face three more years of sanctions.

Security upgrades at U.S. embassies around the world will be mandated, including in war-torn countries such as Syria and Yemen, where there is no U.S. diplomatic presence now. U.S. diplomats at the United Nations will have to work to end sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers. And there will be a new push in Congress to rename the street in front of the Chinese Embassy in Washington for a prominent Chinese dissident.

Basically, the WH got a deal to get an ambassador to Mexico whose entire tenure will be shorter than the length of her 11-month confirmation wait. If she gets to Mexico this month, that will give the new ambassador barely six months to settle in Mexico City and just in time to cast her vote as an overseas voter in the 2017 presidential election. Like all presidential appointees, she will be obligated to tender her resignation on the golden hours between the election of a new president in November 2016 and when the new president is sworn into office in January 2017.

The resignations of career appointees to chiefs of mission positions are traditionally declined by the incoming administration whereas resignations of political and noncareer ambassadors are typically almost always accepted. Ms. Jacobson is a career civil servant at the State Department but is not a member of the career Foreign Service, and therefore considered a noncareer appointee. If there is a Trump WH — gosh, who knows how will ambassadorial appointments blow up —  in all likelihood, noncareer appointees will be replaced with Trump’s noncareer appointees.  If there is a Clinton WH, the new ambassador may be allowed to stay on like the rest of the career appointees already appointed worldwide but it’s worth noting that the Clinton world will definitely have a lengthy ambo wish list from supporters and bundlers.

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Interagency People to SIGAR: Hit the road John and don’t you come back no more, no more, no more …

Posted: 2:26 am PT
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Last year, the NYT covered SIGAR’s John Sopko.

This past Labor Day, there was this big splash, quite an effort here from a dozen or so folks from three agencies:

Detractors describe Sopko as “egomaniacal,” “petty,” “a bully” and “the Donald Trump of inspectors general.” But Sopko has publicly brushed off — even relished — the criticism, arguing that it’s his job to shine a light on mistakes made by “bureaucrats” who would prefer that his reports “be slipped in a sealed envelope in the dead of night under the door — never to see the light of day.”

“My job is to call balls and strikes,” Sopko once told NBC News. “Nobody likes the ump.”

Here’s SIGAR Sopko previously discussing his media strategy:

Then here’s one view from Afghanistan:

John F. Sopko was appointed Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction on July 2, 2012 by President Obama. In his last congressional post, Mr. Sopko was Chief Counsel for Oversight and Investigations for the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, chaired by Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), during the 110th Congress.

In the fall of 2010, a bi-partisan group of senators and POGO called for the removal of Mr. Sopko’s predecessor. At that time, POGO reported that “the SIGAR office has largely been considered a disappointment, and numerous deficiencies in its operations and audit reports have been identified.” The POGO investigator also said at that time that the “office has produced milk-toast audits that have not inspired congressional confidence.”  In January 2011, the previous inspector, Arnold Fields, a retired Marine major general, resigned, per WaPo “after a review by the Council of Inspectors General found that many of his office’s audits barely met minimum quality standards and that Fields had not laid out a clear strategic vision.”

In accordance with Government Auditing Standards, SIGAR is required to undergo a periodic external quality control review (peer review). SIGAR’s latest peer review, which was conducted by the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) was publicly released on March 30, 2016:

The NASA Office of Inspector General reviewed the system of quality control for the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) Auditing Division in effect for fiscal year 2015. As indicated in our February 25, 2016, report, we assigned SIGAR a “pass” rating. During our review, we found three issues that were not of sufficient significance to affect our opinion on this rating but that require your attention. We believe these issues could be addressed through simple revisions to the policy manual.

So SIGAR was reviewed by IG peers and got a pass rating!  Imagine that.

Mr. Sopko’s deputy famously said once,“Some people are unhappy with the fact we get press coverage, even though our two-person press shop pales in comparison to the squadrons of PR people at Embassy Kabul, ISAF, or DOD. Some people think we’re doing this to attract attention and gratify our egos. They are mistaken. Neither John nor I are angling for another government job, movie role, book advance, or trying to become the next YouTube sensation.”

We should note that when we request information from SIGAR, we always get a response. When we request information from US Embassy Kabul, our emails just get swallowed by black holes of indifference.

 

Related item:

Letter of Comment on the System of Quality Control for the Audit Organization of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (PDF) March 2016

 

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