Congressional Democrats Complain Inspectors General’s Review of HRC’s Emails as “Too Politicized”

Posted: 1:28 pm EDT
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In January, we wrote It Took Awhile But Here It Is — Going After @StateDept OIG Steve Linick With Fake Sleeper Cells. In February, there was an allegation of “fishing expeditions.” This month, it got louder (Kerry Stands By Linick as Clinton Campaign Goes the Full Monty on @StateDept Inspector General).  From the beginning, we are of the opinion that the real target of these allegations of bias is Mr. Linick, who came to the State Department in 2013.  If you can smear the messengers badly enough, then, of course, all those reports his office issued and will issue in the future can simply be ignored or dismissed as partisan.  We remain convinced that the State IG and ICIG are doing their jobs as well as they could under awful weather conditions in an election year.

More recently, the NYT reported that senior Democrats in Congress have now accused the inspectors general of the State Department and the nation’s intelligence agencies of politicizing their review of the former secretary of state’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.

The accusation — made in an unusually pointed letter dated Wednesday — underscored the increasingly partisan nature of the controversy over the email practices of Mrs. Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. Those practices are the subject of an F.B.I. investigation, in addition to inquiries by the inspectors general and congressional committees.

“Already, this review has been too politicized,” the Democrats wrote to Steve A. Linick, the State Department’s inspector general, and I. Charles McCullough III, the inspector general for the nation’s 16 intelligence agencies. “We are relying on you as independent inspectors general to perform your duties dispassionately and comprehensively.”

WaPo notes that Mr. Linick, the State Department’s independent watchdog, has been conducting a review of the use of private email for government business at the request of Secretary of State John Kerry.

The office of I. Charles McCullough III, who plays the same role for the intelligence community, was involved in a review of Clinton’s correspondence as it was released to the public, a process that concluded last month.

The dual complaints from the campaign trail and from Capitol Hill regarding the watchdogs could be an effort to proactively inoculate Clinton should one of the two offices issue a report that is damaging to Clinton’s presidential campaign. Clinton’s campaign has already aggressively worked to undermine the credibility of the two offices.

Doug Welty, a spokesman for the State IG, said:

“Partisan politics play no role in OIG’s work.  At all times, State OIG operates as an independent organization, consistent with the law,” he said in a statement. “Our work will continue to be unbiased, objective, and fact-based. We are now reviewing the email practices of the current and last four secretaries of State, not just Secretary Clinton.  Any suggestion that the office is biased against any particular secretary is completely false.”

We recognize that the IGs walk a very difficult line, having to report not only to their agency heads (in the case of the ICIG, that’s more than a dozen intel agencies) but also to the Congress. Sherman Funk, the former State Department IG described it as straddling the barbed wire fence.  If our elected reps are concerned that the reviews have become “too politicized,” then Congress should stop leaking to the press IG materials before they are officially released.

Of course, if these reviews become so highly partisan that it become impossible for the watchdogs to do their jobs, there is always another solution.  Congress can restore the Independent Counsel law which could be used by Congress or the Attorney General to investigate individuals holding or formerly holding certain high positions in the federal government.

Oh, my goodness, look who will be salivating over that. The last time the IC happened, if we remember right, there was a lot of sludge and the stock price for Clorox actually went up.  So best not go there. Below is the letter sent to both IGs:

 

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Clinton Email Challenge Now a Sharknado, and Secretary Kerry Is Right to be “Concerned”

Posted: 2:13  pm PDT
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This happened Thursday night. We drafted this post early morning but waited for a piece of information we wanted to see. So yup, overtaken by events.  In any case, you may now read the inspector generals memos referenced to in the NYT report here. See NYT: Criminal Inquiry Sought Over Clinton Emails? Read the Inspector Generals Memos.  We’re also waiting for the OIG to issue a clarification on the DOJ referral the NYT reported.

The memos went possibly from two IG offices — State Department Steve Linick and Intelligence Community Inspector General I. Charles McCullough, III — to the Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy. The IGs memos are also cc’ed to one of the State Department’s deputy secretaries. It looks like, the memos or contents/snippets of it were shared with DOJ, as a DOJ official appears to be the NYT’s source for this story (see tweets below).

Here are the tweets from July 24:

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The report from the NYT includes the following:

— 1.  The memos were provided to The New York Times by a senior government official.

— 2.  The inspectors general also criticized the State Department for its handling of sensitive information, particularly its reliance on retired senior Foreign Service officers to decide if information should be classified, and for not consulting with the intelligence agencies about its determinations.

— 3.  The revelations about how Mrs. Clinton handled her email have been an embarrassment for the State Department, which has been repeatedly criticized over its handling of documents related to Mrs. Clinton and her advisers.

— 4.  Some State Department officials said they believe many senior officials did not initially take the House committee seriously, which slowed document production and created an appearance of stonewalling.

— 5.  State Department officials also said that Mr. Kerry is concerned about the toll the criticism has had on the department and has urged his deputies to comply with the requests quickly.

Today:

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On this whole email debacle at the State Department, it must be said that this might not have happened if not enabled by senior bureaucrats in the agency. We do not believe for a moment that senior officials were not aware about the email practices of then Secretary Clinton or the record retention requirement. But hey, if the practice was done for four years over the protests and dissent of officials at “M”, “A”, the Legal Adviser or the CIO, we’d like to see that email trail.

By the way, this NYT report follows a July 20 Politico report about a contentious hearing where U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon demanded explanations for why some of the Associated Press’ FOIA requests received no reply for four years or more before the wire service filed suit in March.

“The State Department’s not going to have the luxury of saying, because we’re focusing on Hillary’s emails, we’re doing so at the cost and expense of four-year-old requests. So, that’s not going to be an excuse,” the judge said. “In my judgment, a four-year-old request gets a priority over a recent request.”

On Mr. Kerry’s concern about the toll the criticism has had on the department … the secretary is right to be concerned. Senior officials did not take Congress seriously?  Even if senior bureaucrats do not agree or approve of the conduct of the Select Committee, even if they think this is a sideshow seeking to derail a presidential campaign, the required document production is still part of their jobs. In my view, the most serious consequence on the appearance of stonewalling is it also gives the appearance that bureaucrats are picking sides in this political shitstorm.

This can potentially undermine the expectation of the State Department as an impartial and non-political entity. The perception, right or wrong, that this impartiality is compromised, will not serve it or its employees well in the long run.

You might like to read a couple previous posts on FOIA personnel, costs and the “persistent neglect of fundamental leadership responsibilities” that made this the Clinton email debacle a challenge of Sharknado proportion for the agency. (see Snapshot: State Dept FY2014 FOIA Personnel and Costs and State Dept FOIA Requests: Agency Ranks Second in Highest Backlog and Here’s Why).

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NYT: Criminal Inquiry Sought Over Clinton Emails? Read the Inspector Generals Memos

Posted: 9:45 am PDT
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Related to The New York Times report Thursday night, Criminal Inquiry Is Sought in Clinton Email Account, here are the memos from the inspectors generals of the State Department Steve Linick and Intelligence Community Inspector General I. Charles McCullough, III.  The memos include the response from Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy. The memos from the IGs are cc’ed to Heather Higginbottom, the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources (D/MR). The response from U/S Management contains no courtesy copies. Trying to read as fast as I could to find that section where the IGs have requested a criminal inquiry.

ESP-15-04-05 | Potential Issues Identified by the Office of the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community Concerning the Department of State’s Process for the Review of Former Secretary Clinton’s Emails under the Freedom of Information Act (pdf)

Summary:

Intelligence Community Inspector General (ICIG) staff conducted a preliminary assessment of the Department’s ongoing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) process for the Clinton emails, including 296 emails publicly released by the Department on May 22, 2015. This preliminary assessment identified four areas that require immediate attention by Department leadership.

  • Attachment #A contains OIG’s and ICIG’s Memorandum, dated June 19, 2015, which makes four recommendations related to these areas.
  • Attachment #B contains U/S Patrick Kennedy’s June 25, 2015, and July 14, 2015, responses. Based on these responses, OIG and ICIG consider two of these recommendations to be closed, whereas the other two remain unresolved.
  • Attachment #C contains more detailed information about the status of each recommendation.

On June 29, 2015, OIG and ICIG sent U/S Patrick Kennedy a follow-up memorandum providing additional information supporting their concerns about the FOIA process used for the Clinton emails (see Attachment #D). Since then, ICIG has received confirmation from lC FOIA officials that several of these emails contained classified IC information, though they were not marked as classified. In addition, at least one of these emails has been released to the public and can be accessed on the Department’s FOIA website.

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