Democratic presumptive presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's closest aide admitted under oath that the then-Secretary of State had physical copies of her schedules destroyed, marking the first time anyone working for Clinton has admitted destroying public records.
Huma Abedin, a longtime aide to Clinton and wife of former Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York, made the admission during a deposition related to several ongoing lawsuits against Clinton and the Department of State, according to the New York Post. Media outlets like The Associated Press and non-profits like Judicial Watch sought the Clinton schedules because they detailed previously unrevealed meetings with more than 100 Clinton Foundation donors and associates while Clinton was Secretary of State, according to the AP.
“If there was a schedule that was created that was her secretary of state daily schedule, and a copy of that was then put in the burn bag, that... that certainly happened on... on more than one occasion,” Abedin reportedly said.
During the deposition, Abedin answered questions from attorneys for Judicial Watch, a government watchdog organization that sued Clinton and the state department after they balked for years on responding to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
Government agencies are required by law to respond to FOIA requests within 30 days. Anyone, including regular citizens and the media, can request public records from the government. If a government agency cannot fulfill a records request within the 30-day window, it's required to explain why and to fulfill the records request in a reasonable timeframe. FOIA is a critical tool used by newspapers and media organizations to keep tabs on government.
The FOIA lawsuits and depositions are separate from the FBI's ongoing criminal investigation into Clinton's "homebrew" email server. The latter is focused on whether using an unsecured home server to host sensitive government documents is illegal, and whether the presumptive Democratic nominee endangered U.S. secrets by hosting them on a server that was easily accessible to hackers.
Richard Grenell, a former U.S. diplomat and spokesman for the U.N., said it's highly unusual for a public official to "burn" public documents.
"I spent eight years at the State Department and watched as four U.S. ambassadors and two secretaries of state shared their daily schedules with a variety of State Department employees and U.S. officials," Grennell told the Post. "I've never seen anyone put their schedule in the burn bag – because every one of them had a state.gov email address and therefore their daily schedules became public records, as required by law."
In the FOIA probe, the AP sued the Department of State in 2015, saying one FOIA request to the department had gone unfulfilled since 2010, while others had been pending since 2013.
"The legal action comes after repeated requests filed under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act have gone unfulfilled," the AP reported in March.
In addition to interest in the email records, the AP sought Clinton's schedules, which "identified at least 75 meetings with longtime political donors, Clinton Foundation contributors and corporate and other outside interests that were not recorded or omitted the names of those she met."
The private Clinton schedule included the names of 114 people Clinton met with while she was Secretary of State, while the public version of the schedule omits those names and any mention of the meetings, the AP said.
Like Judicial Watch, the AP said it was forced to file suit because the missing records obscure government actions in relation to significant events and decisions.
"After careful deliberation and exhausting our other options, The Associated Press is taking the necessary legal steps to gain access to these important documents, which will shed light on actions by the State Department and former Secretary Clinton, a presumptive 2016 presidential candidate, during some of the most significant issues of our time," Karen Kaiser, AP's general counsel, said at the time.