The U.S. Department of State missed a court-ordered deadline to produce emails from Hillary Clinton’s private server, and now the judge wants answers.
At a hearing on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras in Washington ordered the government to explain how State Department officials failed to realize until three weeks before the Jan. 29 production deadline that they hadn’t sent out more than 7,000 pages set to be released for other agencies to review.
The State Department wants until Feb. 29 to release the remaining emails, but acknowledged that staff had largely finished reviewing a subset of those documents. Contreras pressed the government to explain why those documents couldn’t be released sooner.
The judge was frustrated. Here are five tell-tale signs.
U.S. Department of Justice lawyer Robert Prince said the State Department needed more than a week to make an interim production of some emails that had completed the review process. Contreras said that seemed like an “unreasonably long period of time” to publish the documents or at least make them available to Jason Leopold, the journalist who sued for their release.
Contreras repeatedly asked Prince to explain why—he asked at least three variations of the same question—it would take more than a week to release the subset of emails that had cleared the review process. Prince said the posting process was complex and would require the efforts of employees who were also doing other tasks. To pull them off those tasks could delay the final production, he said.
Contreras said the government should expect to make an interim production of Clinton emails by Feb. 18, if not sooner.
Contreras told Prince that the State Department put him “between a rock and a hard place” with the last-minute revelations that led the government to miss the Jan. 29 deadline. The judge said he was faced with either ordering the government to produce documents before it said it could be ready or granting them an extension because of their error.
Contreras ordered the government to file a detailed explanation in writing by the end of the week about how the problem arose that caused the State Department to miss the Jan. 29 deadline and why it went unnoticed until the last minute. He also gave the government 24 hours to explain why it couldn’t at least give Jason Leopold access sooner to review the emails that had completed the review process.