State Department: We need until January 2016 to release Clinton emails

Story highlights

  • Officials are sifting through more than 55,000 pages of Clinton emails
  • State Department official says review of the documents will take months
  • Clinton's exclusive use of private email while in office has caused uproar

(CNN)The State Department says it needs until next year before it will be ready to publicly release tens of thousands of Hillary Clinton emails from her time in charge.

The uproar over Clinton's exclusive use of private, rather than official, email during her tenure as Secretary of State erupted earlier this year and is still rumbling on.
In an effort to defuse the crisis ahead of the announcement of her 2016 presidential run, Clinton said in March that she wanted "the public to see my email" and had asked the State Department to release them.
    The department is also under pressure from a Freedom of Information Act lawsuits seeking the release of documents related to Clinton that haven't been made public.
    For one of those lawsuits -- brought by Vice News -- the State Department on Monday produced a court-requested schedule for publicly releasing roughly 30,000 emails that Clinton handed over to it in December. Clinton provided the emails in paper form, amounting to about 55,000 pages, according to the department.

    Mountain of papers presents 'challenges'

    The State Department understands the public's "considerable" interest in the records and is "endeavoring to complete the review and production of them as expeditiously as possible," John F. Hackett, the acting director of the department's Office of Information Programs and Services, said in a court declaration filed Monday.
    "The collection is, however, voluminous and, due to the breadth of topics, the nature of the communications, and the interests of several agencies, presents several challenges," Hackett said.
    The department is reviewing the mountain of emails and plans to publish the portions of them that it doesn't redact on its website.
    The review should be finished by the end of the year, Hackett said, but he asked the court to accept the proposed date of January 15, 2016, in order "to factor in the holidays."
    Judges in the Freedom of Information Act lawsuits still have to decide whether to accept the proposed schedule.

    Clinton's private email

    The hefty document-sorting task is the result of Clinton's use of private email during her time as Secretary of State between January 2009 and February 2013.
    While she is not the first secretary of state to use a private email address -- former Secretaries Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice both had private emails -- Clinton is the first to exclusively use a private account.
    Unlike Clinton, both Rice and Powell had and used an official government email address. Emails to and from official accounts are backed up and kept by the government.
    The State Department says it asked former secretaries in 2014 to "submit any records in their possession for proper preservation," resulting in Clinton's delivery of boxes of papers.
    Because Clinton's emails were on a private server, it's hard to know whether the thousands of pages submitted contained all the emails of interest. Clinton kept private the server that housed them and has since wiped it clean.
    A Clinton aide told CNN in March that they complied fully with the request for all official emails.
    Joyce Barr, the State Department's top Freedom of Information Act officer, said this month that Clinton's practice of using a personal email account on a private server was "not acceptable."

    Benghazi emails prioritized

    In his declaration Monday, Hackett detailed the labor-intensive effort to sift through the reams and reams of documents, which he says were delivered in 12 bankers' boxes and later scanned into electronic form.
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    "Currently, this project is staffed fulltime by a project manager and two case analysts, as well as nine FOIA reviewers who devote the entirety of their time at the State Department to this effort," he said. The team also gets help from other analysts and IT specialists.
    The emails will also have to be looked at by relevant experts in the department, other agencies whose interests are affected and legal advisers, Hackett said.
    A separate manual review of a specific portion of the documents conducted in the weeks after their delivery found about 296 emails that were relevant to requests from the House Select Committee on Benghazi.
    The department prioritized the review of those emails, which were spread over roughly 850 pages, Hackett said.
    "All material that can be released from the 296 emails will be made publicly available on the Department's FOIA website," he said, without specifying when.