President Trump Orders State to Step Up the Pace on Releasing Clinton's Emails

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign event, Saturday, April 2, 2016, in Eau Claire, Wis. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Sometimes doing the right thing has the additional virtue of serving self-interest.

CNN is reporting, inasmuch as that is creditable given their demonstrated inability to distinguish apples from bananas

that President Trump has ordered the State Department to accelerate the release of emails belonging to Hillary Clinton. There are about 30,000 of those and even though a court has ordered the release, the State Department is following a schedule that would run well in Donald Trump’s second term in order to complete.

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.

Is this politically motivated? Sure. Hillary Clinton is back in the spotlight over her role in approving the sale of the mining rights to a significant amount of the United States’s uranium to a Russian oligarch allied with Putin. There is no better way to keep attention on her than doing this.

On the other hand, it is also good public policy. When the Freedom of Information Act was signed the intent was that government correspondence was presumed to be releasable to the public. Hence the “exemptions” to that presumption in the law to protect legitimately classified information. Over time, agencies have started viewing all information as classified and unless it is clearly mundane and banal, it won’t see the light of day. In some agencies, the only way you are going to get a response to a FOIA request is via a lawsuit–State is very nearly in that group–and this defeats the entire purpose of the law. It is unconscionable that State has FOIA requests that are a decade old.

Cynically, I’d note that most presidents are in favor of transparency when they take over from an opposing party and are in favor of cooperating with Congress when they have majorities. So while I like this devotion to both principles, I think it will be short-lived.