WASHINGTON (AP) — Impatient with years of delays, a federal judge on Friday gave the State Department some tight deadlines to provide The Associated Press with thousands of pages of documents related to Hillary Rodham Clinton — a timetable that means many of the files should be released well before the U.S. presidential primary elections.
Friday's order came one week after U.S. District Judge Richard Leon chastised the department for its slowness in satisfying years-old records requests, including for Clinton's schedules and calendars.
The AP sued in March after the department failed to turn over files requested under the Freedom of Information Act, including one request made more than five years ago.
Since then, the State Department has said it struggled to meet the AP's demand on time because of limited staff resources and thousands of other pending requests. But at a hearing last month, Leon appeared troubled that the document requests had gone unsatisfied and said at least part of what the AP wanted could be processed with ease by "the least ambitious bureaucrat."
A State Department spokesman did not immediately return a message seeking comment Friday. It was not immediately clear whether the State Department will comply with the judge's order or ask an appeals court to give it more time, though the judge said the agency must alert him if it feels that it cannot meet any part of the deadline.
"We are very pleased Judge Leon set a tight production schedule for review and release of these public documents," AP general counsel Karen Kaiser said in a statement. "We remain committed to the goal of getting this important information released to the public as quickly as possible."
Under the new schedule, the State Department will have 30 days to produce roughly 68 pages of documents related to Clinton's former top aide, Huma Abedin. The State Department last week in writing asked Abedin's lawyers to preserve and return to the government any federal records that Abedin might have in her possession.
Within 90 days, the judge said, the department must turn over nearly 5,000 pages of calendars and schedules from Clinton's four years as secretary of state.
In addition, the State Department will have eight months to produce 13,387 pages of materials concerning its oversight of military contractor BAE Systems during the years Clinton served as secretary of state. The British firm settled with the Justice Department in February 2010 to end a long-running investigation into its overseas contracts and later agreed to pay a $79 million fine to the State Department and submit to auditing and oversight. So far, after more than two years, the State Department had turned over seven pages to the AP on the subject.
The AP submitted its FOIA request targeting records from Clinton and a number of her top aides in July 2013. The State Department denied fast processing of the request and later missed a promised target date for completing its searches.
The scheduling order does not include the 55,000 pages of Clinton emails that the State Department is already in the process of releasing in a separate case. It also does not take into account documents contained in 20 boxes recently given to the State Department by Philippe Reines, a former Clinton senior adviser.
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