Last year, International Business Times reporter David Sirota filed a Freedom of Information Act request for emails between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the United States Trade Representative, a federal agency concerned with negotiating international trade policy, in which the two offices discussed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a widely-criticized pact among the United States and eleven other countries, including Australia, Canada, and Mexico. Last week, the State Department notified Sirota about the progress of his request: The agency would not provide the emails until the end of November—three weeks after the 2016 presidential election.
In a letter dated May 31, State Department employee Charlotte W. Duckett wrote:
Our office was recently informed that the search process has been completed and that the information located from that search is currently being prepared for the review process. The new estimated completion date for your request is November 31 [sic], 2016. We appreciate your continued patience during this process.
As Sirota later noted, “The delay was issued in the same week the Obama administration filed a court motion to try to kill a lawsuit aimed at forcing the federal government to more quickly comply with open records requests for Clinton-era State Department documents.” That lawsuit, which was filed by the Republican National Committee in March, concerns a FOIA request seeking emails between Clinton and a number of her deputies at the State Department. The agency recently claimed that it would take 75 years for its staffers to fully comply with the R.N.C.’s request.
The delay in fulfilling Sirota’s request is particularly noteworthy, however, given the startling evolution of Hillary Clinton’s stance toward the Trans-Pacific Partnership. As Secretary of State, she openly endorsed the partnership, whose core provisions involve the elimination of thousands of trade tariffs. But under pressure from the Democratic Party’s progressive wing (including, especially, her primary opponent Bernie Sanders), she began to oppose the very same partnership during the 2015-2016 presidential race.
Though it central purpose is to remove trade barriers among its signatories, the TPP has also been condemned for a number of related policies, including its coordination of international intellectual property law (which would, among other things, likely raise the price of proprietary drugs), a Congressional amendment discouraging boycotts of the State of Israel for its settlement program in the occupied West Bank, and the unusual veil of secrecy in which the entire agreement was negotiated.
One of the unanswered questions of this dramatic shift is the extent to which Secretary Clinton was personally involved in drafting the text of the agreement—which is exactly what Sirota’s FOIA request is intended to address.