WASHINGTON ― Hillary Clinton’s campaign team once considering trying to recruit an ally on Capitol Hill to introduce a bill that would end the Freedom of Information Act exemption that applies to members of Congress.
The ideal candidate, senior spokesman Jesse Ferguson suggested in a March 2015 email conversation released by Wikileaks on Monday, would be a person in the House of Representatives who is “either an HRC advocate OR someone who wants to make a name for themselves on good government/transparency (and doesn’t mind pissing some people off).”
They couldn’t find a member of the House who had pushed such legislation in the past. It’s unclear if they ever directly asked a member to introduce the bill. The Clinton campaign did not immediately respond to request for comment, but it appears that if they did make the ask, they were unable to find a member who was willing to make a public push to end FOIA exemptions for lawmakers.
The goal, of course, was to deflect attention away from the Clinton’s own email scandal and highlight lawmakers’ disinterest in making their own communications subject to public records requests. A 1966 law requires most government agencies to respond to requests from the public for documents or information, but lawmakers are exempt.
Earlier that month, the news broke that while serving as secretary of state, Clinton used a personal email address and relied on a private email server, rather than using a government email account housed on government servers. Clinton, who was then running for the Democratic presidential nomination, said her decision was based on convenience rather than secrecy and asked the State Department begin the review process to release her emails.
This scandal occurred alongside the House Benghazi Committee’s investigation into the attacks on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Libya in 2012. In their leaked email correspondence, Clinton staffers warned that Congressional Republicans planned to push for further investigation into the former secretary of state’s email practices.
One of the main talking points staffers discussed pushing out to Congressional allies was the idea that Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who was leading the committee, and his Republican colleagues weren’t seeking transparency in their investigations into Clinton. Instead, they were “furthering a partisan witch-hunt.”
“Who is the right person to raise a simple question of the audacity of members of Congress asking others to release their emails when they don’t?” wrote Joel Benenson, Clinton’s senior campaign strategist. “Do we have some D who can squarely [look] at Gowdy and demand he release all his emails for the last two years so people can see for themselves how politically motivated his investigations are?”
The next step, Ferguson suggested, was to get a member of Congress to introduce a bill that would end the exemption that protects lawmakers from having their emails released to the public in response to freedom of information act requests. “They should be just as transparent as they’re demanding HRC be,” he said. “It would put the focus on the Members keeping their emails private and would never actually pass.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest poked fun at Congress’ hypocrisy on FOIA matters in a hearing last year, after members were critical of the Obama administration’s backlog of unfulfilled public records requests.
The administration processed 647,000 FOIA requests, Earnest told reporters at a press briefing. “I would note that that is 647,000 more FOIA requests than were processed by the United States Congress,” he continued. “And those who are interested in advocating for genuine transparency and government should advocate for Congress being subject to those kinds of transparency measures.”
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