Even then, it said, an “interagency review process could impact the Department’s proposed” timeline for public release of redacted versions of the e-mails.
And any other requests for Clinton e-mails, it warned, could make the review even slower.
But a federal judge on Tuesday wanted a more specific timeline from the State Department. Jeffrey Light, a lawyer in the case, told Reuters that U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras ordered State to present a timetable by next week for a rolling release of 55,000 pages of e-mails.
The judge also wants a schedule specifically for the 300 Clinton e-mails dealing with U.S. operations in Benghazi, Libya, where four Americans, including a U.S. ambassador, were killed in a Sept. 11, 2012, attack.
At best, according to the State Department plan, some e-mails could land just at the beginning of the Democratic presidential nominating process, which starts in February with the Iowa caucuses.
The e-mails were turned over to the department at its request by the former secretary of state in December following reports that she was keeping them on a private server.
The court filing came in response to a Freedom of Information Act suit filed by Vice News.
Why will it take so long?
For one thing, it always does at the State Department. Its record on Freedom of Information Act requests is so bad that in 2014 the nonpartisan Committee for Effective Government rated it last among major agencies.
Moreover, the State Department filing explained that Clinton sent over the e-mails on paper, rather than in digital form. They consume a total of 55,000 pages in “twelve bankers boxes … that corresponded approximately to the time frame of the documents within a given box.”
Now each page “must be individually hand-processed in order to ensure that all information is being captured.” That alone is a five-step process that is “time consuming and labor-intensive,” the filing to the U.S. District Court in Washington said.
But that was just the beginning. The State Department outlined a 15-step process involving sign-offs by at least three different offices internally and an unknown number of other agencies, each of which will undoubtedly impose its own review procedure on the missives.
For example, if the Treasury Department had some role in a subject under discussion in an e-mail, its lawyers will be given the opportunity to review it and perhaps to suggest, at one extreme, reasons why it should not be released or portions that should be redacted.
“The review of these materials will likely require consultation with a broad range of subject matter experts within the Department and other agencies, as well as potentially with foreign governments,” the filing said, adding by way of warning that the department “operates in approximately 285 locations around the globe.”
Nor did the filing suggest any firmness in the January 2016 date. Indeed, a footnote warned that additional requests for Clinton e-mails that are subject-specific, as opposed to Vice’s demand for everything, could “slow down the Department’s processing of the collection.”
Below are the 15 stops along the way outlined by the State Department in the court document: