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Policy: Technology

If you think the IRS' latest claim on 'lost' emails is unprecedented, Gawker has some news for you

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Hillary Clinton,IRS,State Department,Technology,Transparency,Gawker,Buzzfeed,Becket Adams

As the Internal Revenue Service tries its best to convince a skeptical nation that it's unable to recover nearly two years' worth of subpoenaed emails because of a supposed computer crash, it's important to remember that this isn't the first time that a federal agency has “struggled” to produce requested correspondences.

In fact, Gawker has been trying since at least 2012 to obtain emails between reporters and Philippe Reines, a former State Department official and longtime aide to Hillary Clinton.

Yes, Gawker editor John Cook wrote the State Department nearly two years ago for all emails between Reines and reporters from various news groups, including the New York Times and BuzzFeed, and State has yet to fulfill his request.

Sure, Cook has received an official response from the State Department, but the federal agency still hasn’t given up the emails.

“After a thorough search,” Sheryl Walter, the director of State’s Office of Information Programs and Services, said in a statement addressed to Cook, “... no records responsive to your request were located.”

Her response, dated months after Cook’s initial 2012 Freedom of Information Act request, is curious considering that it was Reines’ job during his tenure at State to act as a go-between with reporters and then-Secretary of State Clinton.

And State says it can’t find his emails with reporters?

Cook has appealed the State Department’s response to his FOIA request.

“[I]t is inconceivable that no email communications between [Reines] and the press exist,” Gawker counsel Heather Dietrick said in an appeal to the State Department, according to BuzzFeed.

The State Department eventually replied in March 2014 and said that it’d take another crack at finding Reines’ emails.

“In response to the additional information you provided in your appeal, the Department of State will undertake a further search for the records you requested,” a State spokeswoman told Gawker.

When pressed for answers regarding why State couldn’t initially fulfill Cook’s request, a spokesperson explained: “The department’s FOIA staff has been in touch with Mr. Cook who has appealed his request. The department is committed to transparency and does its best to respond appropriately, and in as timely a manner as possible, to the thousands of FOIA requests that come in each year. We will continue to keep Mr. Cook updated on the status of his request.”

Absent, of course, from this statement is a sufficient explanation for why State denied Cook’s initial request in the first place.

As senior communications adviser to Clinton during her reign as Secretary of State, Reines was infamous for his less-that-gentle approach with reporters, at one time telling the late Michael Hastings to “f--- off" -- a message delivered by email.

Here’s the Gawker appeal to the State Department, courtesy BuzzFeed:

John Cook FOIA Appeal Letter (Reines Emails) by Ruby Cramer

And here’s the State Department’s reply to Gawker’s appeal:

[FOIA] Letter From Lori Hartmann F-2012-36692 by Ruby Cramer

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