President Donald Trump has made it clear to the State Department that he wants to accelerate the release of any remaining Hillary Clinton emails in its possession as soon as possible, according to three sources familiar with the President’s thinking.
This latest move for disclosure from the State Department comes at the same time the President called upon the Justice Department to lift a gag order on a key FBI informant in an investigation into Russian efforts to gain influence in the US uranium industry during the Obama administration.
The sources described the President’s interest in the release of the emails – and the testimony of the FBI informant – as rooted in a commitment to “transparency,” with one source adding that “the law requires cooperation with Congress and the courts.”
After the initial publication of this story, one White House official confirmed the President expressed interest in the release of the Clinton emails, and later – in a conversation with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – learned of the vast backlog of more than 13,000 outstanding FOIA cases. Those cases involve not just Clinton’s emails but a multitude of topics – some going back almost a decade. Trump then asked Tillerson to work to clear the backlog.
In a memo to State Department employees, Tillerson said that the department will commit more resources and workforce to address the long queue of requests.
In a statement to CNN, also after the initial publication of this story, Raj Shah, White House principal deputy press secretary said, “This President wants all federal agencies to meet their obligations under the law and be transparent with the public.”
The sources also said Trump has expressed frustration with government agencies that have been slow in responding to requests for information that he believes should be public, especially given congressional and court-ordered requests for the information. One source also said this effort is not about any individual or any particular item of evidence. However, both the lifting of the gag order and the effort on the emails involve one political figure who happens to be the President’s favorite target: Hillary Clinton.
Taken together, these two actions could accelerate recent efforts by congressional Republicans to investigate the previous administration – new probes that they’ve opened as multiple Russia investigations into the Trump campaign continue on Capitol Hill.
The FBI informant could shed new light on the Obama-era arrangement that ended up putting Russia in control of 20% of American uranium stockpiles. The Clinton-run State Department backed the deal in 2010 along with other officials on the federal council that approves sensitive foreign investments. Clinton has denied any direct involvement in the approval of the deal.
Two sources said the President’s push for transparency is proper protocol. But the White House risks the appearance of political intrusion on traditionally independent parts of the government, particularly the Justice Department, which represents the State Department in the litigation over the release of the Clinton-era emails.
The slow pace has caught the ire of conservative news outlets, which have slammed Tillerson for not doing enough to get Clinton’s emails out in the open.
Clinton’s State Department files became the focus of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed two and half years ago by the conservative legal watchdog group Judicial Watch, which was seeking records related to Clinton’s use of a personal email account while in office. Since then, Judicial Watch has been seeking to speed up the release of the records.
The State Department still has 40,000 pages of records – which may include emails sent by Clinton as secretary of state – that it needs to review for potential release. These documents were discovered by the FBI and handed over to the State Department over the summer as a result of its investigation of former Rep. Anthony Weiner – the estranged husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
The State Department has already processed 32,000 pages of the records from Weiner’s computers, according to Judicial Watch. Tens of thousands of Clinton’s work-related emails turned over separately to the State Department have already been released at Clinton’s urging, some of which may be duplicates of the emails retrieved by the FBI.
A federal judge ordered the State Department to process 500 pages of Clinton records per month, based on arguments about the State Department FOIA office’s ability to process the documents. The judge also ordered that documents with the highest public interest be released first. One source said that the President wants to “get out from under” court orders to one of his departments. The State Department is complying with the order, but suggested at a hearing earlier this week they may be able to speed up the processing due to an increase in staff at the FOIA office.
This story has been updated with comment from the White House.
CNN’s Laura Koran and Brian Rokus contributed to this report.