Judicial Watch Asks Court to Order State Department to End Slow Dragging on Benghazi Cover-up Documents
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced that it asked a federal court to order the State Department to end its “slow dragging strategy” in producing documents regarding the handling of requests about the false talking points used by then-Ambassador Susan Rice to talk about the 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit seeking the documents was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (Judicial Watch vs. Department of State (No. 1:17-cv-00205)).
Rice, in the wake of the attacks in which four Americans were killed, was dispatched to five Sunday news programs to falsely claim the Benghazi attack was the result of a “spontaneous” protest against an “anti-Islamic” internet video. Separate Judicial Watch litigation into the Benghazi talking-points scandal led to the discovery of the Hillary Clinton email issue and to the creation of the House Select Committee on Benghazi.
On May 26, the State Department informed Judicial Watch that the department’s “searches have uncovered in excess of 3,100 potentially responsive documents.” On June 1, the State Department disclosed that the documents consist of approximately 51,329 potentially responsive pages.
The State Department initially proposed a production schedule that Judicial Watch argued would “carry out the rolling production of responsive documents by more than 30 months (to December 2019).” The State Department then amended the proposal to extend its production to October 2018.
Judicial Watch asked the court to order the State Department to produce all “non-exempt responsive records” in three monthly productions, with a final production on or before September 30, 2017.
On March 15 the State Department was ordered to produce documents. Judicial Watch argued in its filing that:
The State Department’s two productions included a total of 22 documents released in full. During the course of approximately 10 weeks, [the State Department] processed and reviewed only 108 documents in response to [Judicial Watch’s] FOIA request (as 86 documents were withheld in full) – an average of 10 documents per week or 4 documents per business day.
“The Trump administration needs to put its foot down and stop the Deep State from protecting Hillary Clinton and the Obama gang,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said. “It is disheartening to see the Trump administration stall the release of documents about the Benghazi cover-up. President Trump needs to take direct action to ensure the truth come out about the Benghazi scandal.”
The suit was filed after the State Department failed to respond to a December 2, 2016, FOIA request seeking:
- All records related to the processing of the FOIA request served on the State Department by Judicial Watch, Inc. on May 13, 2014. All tasking, tracking, and reporting records for searches conducted in response to the request should be considered responsive. Forms DS-1748 and any “search slips,” “search tasker,” and “search details,” also should be considered responsive.
- All internal State Department communications that relate to the processing of or search for records responsive to the FOIA request, including any guidance about how and where to conduct the searches, whether and how to search the emails of then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and any issues, problems, or questions regarding the searches and/or search results.
- All records that relate to the State Department’s discovery, prior to February 2, 2015, that additional searches for record responsive to the FOIA request were necessary. In this regard, the State Department represented in a February 2, 2015 status report filed in litigation regarding the FOIA request that:
In the course of preparing additional information to provide to [Judicial Watch] for purposes of settlement discussions, [the State Department] has discovered that additional searches for documents potentially responsive to the FOIA [request] must be conducted.
- All records that identify the location(s) or source(s) of potentially responsive records that necessitated the “additional searches …”
Previously, Judicial Watch filed a June 21, 2013, FOIA lawsuit about the Benghazi talking points that produced a declassified email showing then-White House Deputy Strategic Communications Adviser Ben Rhodes and other Obama administration public relations officials attempting to orchestrate a campaign to “reinforce” President Obama and to portray the Benghazi consulate terrorist attack as being “rooted in an Internet video, and not a failure of policy” (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:13-cv-00951)).