Weekly Update: Benghazi and Clinton Emails Are Back
JANUARY 11, 2019
The Departments of State and Justice will not investigate themselves we now know, and of course we can’t expect any more efforts in the House of Representatives to get to the bottom of Hillary Clinton’s fraudulent behavior in high office.
But Judicial Watch and some courts won’t be intimidated from asking tough questions.
We have submitted a court-ordered discovery plan for the depositions of several top former government officials involved in the Clinton email scandal, including Obama administration senior officials Susan Rice, Ben Rhodes, Jacob Sullivan, and FBI official E.W. Priestap.
In it we say that we intend “to update the Court regarding the depositions of Hillary Clinton and Cheryl Mills at the conclusion of the 16-week discovery period, unless the Court believes such notice is not necessary.”
The plan for discovery is the latest development in the July 2014 FOIA lawsuit we filed after the U.S. Department of State failed to respond to our May 13, 2014 FOIA request (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:14-cv-01242)). We were seeking:
- 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.
This lawsuit, you will recall, led directly to the disclosure of the Clinton email system in 2015.
Our discovery plan is a response to a December 6, 2018, ruling by Judge Royce C. Lamberth ordering the State Department and Department of Justice to join us in submitting discovery in three distinct areas:
A. Whether Secretary Clinton’s use of a private email server was intended to stymie FOIA; B. Whether the State Department’s intent to settle the case in late 2014 and early 2015 amounted to bad faith; C. Whether the State Department has adequately searched for records responsive to our request.
In his ruling, Lamberth called Clinton’s use of the private email server “one of the gravest modern offenses to government transparency.”
We are seeking the depositions of former U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and former White House Deputy Strategic Communications Adviser Ben Rhodes about the creation and dissemination of the infamous Benghazi talking points because: “No one other than these individuals know better who they were communicating with and where records might be located.”
We also argue for “direct, unfiltered access to [additional] key witnesses with firsthand knowledge and the opportunity to ask follow-up questions” about the illicit Clinton email system. In its pursuit of answers as to whether former Secretary Clinton’s use of a private email server was intended to stymie FOIA, we want to conduct the following depositions:
- Jacob Sullivan, Senior advisor and Deputy Chief of Staff throughout Secretary Clinton’s tenure.
- Clarence Finney (Deputy Director, Executive Secretariat Staff)” the principal advisor and records management expert in the Office of the Secretary who was responsible for control of all correspondence and records for Clinton and other State Department officials.” Finney is also among the State Department officials in the emails discussing the processing of the CREW FOIA request and other requests concerning the former Secretary’s email account.
- Jonathon Wasser, who worked for Finney and who actually conducted searches for records in response to FOIA requests …”
- FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence E.W. Priestap, “who supervised the Clinton email investigation.” Priestap has not explained “the nature or extent of the FBI’s efforts, such as who the FBI attempted to contact, who the FBI actually talked to, who the FBI requested records from, who actually provided records, and whether the FBI believes those that they requested records from actually returned all of the requested records.”
- Justin Cooper (employee of President Bill Clinton and the Clinton Foundation). Cooper created and managed the clintonemail(dot)com server. His testimony to Congress also appears to contradict portions of testimony provided by former Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
- Eric Boswell (Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security). On March 6, 2009, Boswell wrote in an Information Memo to Cheryl Mills that he “cannot stress too strongly … that any unclassified BlackBerry is highly vulnerable in any setting to remotely and covertly monitoring conversations, retrieving email, and exploiting calendars.” A March 11, 2009 email states that, in a management meeting with the assistant secretaries, Secretary Clinton approached Boswell and mentioned she had read the IM and that she “got it.”
- Heather Samuelson (Senior Advisor & White House Liaison). Until her tenure at the State Department ended in March 2013, Samuelson was tasked with tracking the FOIA request served by CREW. Samuelson subsequently served as one of Secretary Clinton’s personal attorneys and, in 2014, reviewed the clintonemail(dot) com account to identify federal records. The records returned by Clinton in December 2014 were records identified by Samuelson.
We argue that, “as the Court has already recognized, understanding the context of the preparation and dissemination of the [Benghazi] talking points is central” to the Clinton email scandal. For instance, did the State Department know that Clinton “deemed the Benghazi attack terrorism hours after it happened, contradicting the Obama Administration’s subsequent claim of a protest-gone-awry?” Was the State Department aware that “Clinton sent or received top-secret information through her private email?”
Incredibly, Justice Department attorneys admit in a filing opposing our limited discovery that “Counsel for State contacted the counsel of some third parties that Plaintiff originally included in its draft discovery proposal to obtain their client’s position on being deposed.” This collusion occurred despite criticism from the Court that the DOJ engaged in “chicanery” to cover up misconduct and that career employees in the State and Justice Departments may have “colluded to scuttle public scrutiny of Clinton, skirt FOIA, and hoodwink this Court.”
We countered that “[t]he government’s proposal, which is really nothing more than an opposition to [Judicial Watch’s] plan, demonstrates that it continues to reject any impropriety on its part and that it seeks to block any meaningful inquiry into its ‘outrageous misconduct.’”
President Trump, frankly, should demand to know why his State and Justice Departments are colluding with Clinton allies and trying to protect Hillary Clinton and themselves from court-ordered questions on the Clinton email scandal. But a federal court wants answers – and our discovery plan is a key step to uncovering whether and how Hillary Clinton email misconduct stymied the Freedom of Information Act.
Our southern border tops the news this week. In addition to fighting the invasion, we must contend with the numerous falsehoods in the media, one of which is that the border crisis has no resulting public health impact. It has never been true, as our Corruption Chronicles blog makes clear.
Weeks after mainstream media outlets reported that illegal immigrants don’t bring disease into the United States, the Border Patrol reveals that it is getting slammed daily with dozens of illegal immigrants carrying “serious illnesses.” These include tuberculosis, influenza and pneumonia. In fact, a Guatemalan migrant who died in U.S. custody on Christmas Eve had Influenza B, a virus that causes respiratory infections.
Federal agents are referring 50 illegal immigrants a day for urgent medical care, according to figures obtained by Washington D.C.’s conservative newspaper. Authorities say “it’s unlike anything they’ve ever seen before.” Many of the migrants have tuberculosis, parasites or the flue, the feds confirm. There are also lots of pregnant women about to give birth. The article quotes Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Kevin McAleenan saying that most of the illegal immigrants were sick when they arrived at the U.S. border. “Many were ill before they departed their homes,” McAleenan said. “We’re talking about cases of pneumonia, tuberculosis, parasites. These are not things that developed urgently in a matter of days.”
A separate story published by a mainstream newspaper on New Year’s Eve discloses that in the last few weeks of 2018 more than 450 illegal immigrants required medical attention for illnesses. More than half were children. In the piece CBP Commissioner McAleenan refers to the situation as a “crisis.” Here’s an excerpt from the article: “The ill migrants have been arriving with all kinds of ailments, many with flu or pneumonia that can be particularly pervasive and dangerous this time of year.” It proceeds to reveal that 17 illegal immigrants have been hospitalized and that the Coast Guard has been deployed to help, sending medical teams to Border Patrol sectors getting bombarded with sick migrants. They include Yuma and Tucson, Arizona as well as the Rio Grande Valley.
It’s unbelievable that a “news” narrative can change so quickly in just a few weeks. Right before Christmas the mainstream media proclaimed illegal immigrants don’t bring disease into the United States. In various articles reporters took it a step further by claiming that migrants actually help fight disease. One story, published by NBC news and reiterated by various other outlets, focused on a study commissioned by a medical journal. One of the researchers received lots of print for declaring that migrants spreading disease is a “false argument” used to keep them out. The editor of the medical journal that conducted the study was quoted saying this: “In too many countries, the issue of migration is used to divide societies and advance a populist agenda.” The biased coverage marked a great example of the mainstream media distorting information to promote a liberal agenda.
Judicial Watch has interviewed medical experts that confirm illegal immigrants do indeed pose a serious public health threat to the U.S. by bringing dangerous diseases into the country. This includes tuberculosis, dengue and Chikungunya. After returning from covering the Central American caravan along the Guatemala-Honduras border, Judicial Watch spoke with a prominent physician in a border state who warned that the migrants will undoubtedly bring infectious diseases into the U.S. Among them are extremely drug resistant strands of tuberculosis and mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue and chikungunya that are widespread in the region.
The same week Judicial Watch published the story about the caravan health threat a major newspaper reported on the health crisis created by the influx of Venezuelans fleeing to neighboring countries. The migrants are spreading malaria, yellow fever, diphtheria, dengue, tuberculosis and AIDS throughout South America. Many of the diseases had been considered eradicated in the neighboring Latin American countries, according to government officials cited in the article, which states that “contagion from Venezuela’s economic meltdown is starting to spread to neighboring countries—not financially, but literally, in the form of potentially deadly diseases carried among millions of refugees.” As an example, the story reveals that “measles reappeared with a vengeance” in a Brazilian city near the Venezuelan border that had declared the highly contagious airborne disease “vanquished” nearly two decades ago. “Measles is already spreading beyond the Brazilian Amazon to other Brazilian states, as well as Colombia, Peru and as far south as Argentina, according to recent Pan American Health Organization reports,” the article states. “Other diseases racing through communities in Venezuela are now crossing borders and raising concerns among health authorities as far away as the U.S.”
Years ago, when Barack Obama let tens of thousands of illegal immigrant minors into the country, health experts warned about the serious hazards to the American public. Most of the Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) came from Central America, like the current caravan, and they crossed into the U.S. through Mexico, in the same way that the caravan expects to. Swine flu, dengue fever and Ebola were among the diseases that the hordes of UACs brought with them, according to lawmakers and medical experts interviewed by Judicial Watch during the influx. At the time, a U.S. Congressman, who is also a medical doctor, told Judicial Watch about the danger to the American public as well as the Border Patrol agents forced to care for the UACs. The former lawmaker, Phil Gingrey, referred to it as a “severe and dangerous” crisis because the Central American youths were importing infectious diseases considered to be largely eradicated in this country. Many migrants lack basic vaccinations such as those to prevent chicken pox or measles, leaving America’s young children and the elderly particularly susceptible, Gingrey pointed out then. To handle the escalating health crisis the CDC activated an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) that largely operated in secrecy.
In his address to the nation President Trump called the situation at the border a humanitarian crisis. He is surely right.
Judicial Watch’s Micah Morrison, our senior investigative journalist, has a major report available on our Investigative Bulletin on the corruption plaguing the highest level of New York City corruption:
The Christmas season in New York City truly is a wonderful time. Everyone seems caught up in the spirit of giving, even the crooks. This year, Christmas brought a special gift: the denouement of the long-running saga of the mayor, the rat, and the NYPD. Once, in an only-in-New-York moment, the rat and a key co-conspirator, both Orthodox Jews, dressed as Santa’s elves and delivered pricey gifts to police officials at the center of a corruption scheme. Then there was the time they flew an NYPD deputy inspector and a detective to Vegas in a private jet with a hooker for Super Bowl weekend. And the time the rat shoved $60,000 in a Ferragamo handbag to pay off a union boss. They showered cash on public officials. They bought their police friends jewelry, cigars, and meals at pricey restaurants. They paid for trips to Rome and Israel and the Dominican Republic.
In return, the NYPD did favors for the rat, Jona Rechnitz, and co-conspirator Jeremy Reichberg. In a midtown office, the New York Times reported, Rechnitz and Reichberg met with “people seeking help with police matters.” The men would later “split the profits” after the problems were resolved. Tickets were fixed, jury duty was avoided, problems with business rivals and city officials went away. Reichberg got a license to carry a gun. Rechnitz was provided with high-speed police escorts to the airport. Police closed a lane in the Lincoln Tunnel to whisk a Rechnitz business associate into Manhattan.
Cash was bestowed on Bill de Blasio’s political campaigns–a lot of it. “Love you brother,” wrote de Blasio in an email to Rechnitz the day after his 2014 inauguration as mayor. And why not? Rechnitz himself had been showing de Blasio a lot of love, bundling more than $41,000 for the mayor’s campaign. And there was a lot more to come. The New York Post reports that Rechnitz and his allies raised upward of $250,000 for entities linked to de Blasio.
Last week, Reichberg was convicted in federal court on four corruption charges. His former friend, Jona Rechnitz, testified against him. Rechnitz had begun cooperating with federal authorities in April 2016, after being implicated in a $12 million Ponzi scheme. In August, Rechnitz’s testimony sent another former friend, union boss Norman Seabrook, to prison for bribery and conspiracy.
It’s a mock epic of petty vanities and temptations and the erosion of values, of greed and corruption and the flouting of many laws by many people in positions of power. Alan Feuer tracked the sprawling saga for the New York Times in April, detailing a “Dickensian cast of characters” connected in an “intersecting web of venality and vice.” Bill de Blasio shows up frequently but was charged with no wrongdoing. Lucky him.
Reichberg’s co-defendant, former NYPD Deputy Inspector James Grant, was acquitted on all charges. In Grant’s case, prosecutors apparently failed to meet the public corruption standard set by the Supreme Court’s 2016 McDonnell decision. McDonnell narrowed the legal definition of public corruption, mandating that prosecutors must show a clear quid-pro-quo “official act” benefiting a crooked scheme. Actions such as “setting up a meeting, talking to another official, or organizing an event” are not enough, the court ruled. “To qualify as an ‘official act,’ the public official must make a decision or take an action on that question or matter, or agree to do so.”
Mayor de Blasio has spent the last two years running away from Reichberg and Rechnitz. In March 2017, city and federal prosecutors announced they would not bring charges against de Blasio for his fundraising practices, some which involved the crooked duo. But Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance criticized the de Blasio effort as a violation of the “intent and spirit” of state campaign finance laws.
Last month, the Post revealed that it had located more than twenty undisclosed emails between Rechnitz and the mayor. The de Blasio administration had failed to produce the emails in response to the Post’s request under New York’s Freedom of Information Law. A de Blasio spokesman told the Post that the emails–some of which surfaced in redacted versions during the recent corruption trial–“weren’t discovered in the search during the FOIL process.”
The new emails show that de Blasio “had a much cozier relationship with Jona Rechnitz than he has admitted,” the Post reported.
“Always stay in touch,” de Blasio emailed Rechnitz.
“Call upon me anytime I can help,” says another.
Rechnitz is a “brother,” a “mensch,” a “friend.”
Sadly, the bromance did not last. By April 2016, as Rechnitz began cooperating with federal authorities, de Blasio started to distance himself from his friend. It turns out they were “not particularly close” after all, de Blasio said.
By October of last year, de Blasio was blasting Rechnitz as “a liar and a felon.”
The mayor and the police commissioner continue to run away from the story. But
for the NYPD, it’s an important case. Read Feuer’s comprehensive report for the galaxy of senior cops drawn into the scandal.
But the case calls to mind the Knapp Commission’s famous distinction between “grass eaters” and “meat eaters” in police corruption. Most of the improper behavior in the case was of the grass-eating, petty corruption variety–favors done, tickets fixed, etc.–rather than major league, meat-eating felonies committed for financial gain. Maybe that’s why most of the cops involved were allowed to escape with “only” disgrace, demotion and early retirement. But corruption is a slippery slope and God knows what this crew would have done next, had they not been exposed by good police work.
The money was bigger for politicians involved in the scandal. Bill de Blasio took a beating in the press but avoided prosecution. Union head Norman Seabrook was not so lucky. The slippery slope applies to public figures too, of course. Small crimes embolden bigger ones. What can you get away with? In New York, defying freedom of information laws has become routine. And around the country, McDonnell has made prosecuting public corruption more difficult, raising the bar on honest services fraud.
Micah and the rest of the Judicial Watch team will continue to keep a close eye on New York corruption.
Until next week …