Tuesday, a federal judge ruled that top Hillary Clinton aides and state department officials should be questioned under oath to determine if they or she intentionally thwarted federal open records laws. The email scandal that erupted last year and threatens Clinton’s presidential aspirations is sure to heat up as the new ruling goes into effect.
The FBI case is focused on whether national security and protocol were purposely ignored by Clinton, her aides and state department officials by their use of an unsecured email server to store, transmit and receive classified documents. Mrs. Clinton, for what she describes as “convenience”, allegedly allowed top-secret information to be transmitted across a private server she kept at home in New York and that was later stored inside the bathroom closet of a computer contractor somewhere in Colorado.
The rather broad ruling by U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of Washington is described as necessary to ascertain whether state department employees intentionally thwarted federal open records laws by using or allowing the use of a private email server throughout Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state from 2009 to 2013. The ruling comes as Mrs. Clinton struggles to pull away from Bernie Sanders, an independent socialist, for the Democratic Party nomination. Mr. Sanders won Iowa by a landslide, lost to Clinton in New Hampshire in a tight race, and loss to her in Nevada by about five points.
Sullivan set an April 12 deadline for Mrs. Clinton and those affected by the ruling to litigate an investigative plan to be approved by the court. To date, Clinton aides and state department employees have said they did nothing wrong during congressional hearings stemming from the charges. To date, Clinton has answered questions with carefully crafted soundbites that may not be suitable under oath. Televised statements and press releases notwithstanding, Mrs. Clinton and others testifying under oath would be held responsible by law for giving untruthful answers. As the investigation drags on, some say Clinton allies will split with her and her campaign rather than fall on the sword for her.
Sullivan was clearly frustrated by the State Department’s slow and often belated responses. “There has been a constant drip, drip, drip of declarations. When does it stop?” Sullivan said, “This case is about the public’s right to know.”
The investigation began with a Judicial Watch request for information regarding Mrs. Clinton’s public records that went largely ignored. Sullivan said that months of separate mini-investigations over Clinton and the State Department’s handling of the email controversy had created “at least a ‘reasonable suspicion’ ” that public access to official government records under the federal Freedom of Information Act was undermined.
For its part, the FBI investigation has widened to include allegations that Mrs. Clinton and her aides may have compromised national security by using an unsecured server to transmit and receive highly sensitive classified information. The federal judge noted that senior State Department officials were aware of the email set-up from time Clinton took office, citing a January 2009 email exchange including Undersecretary for Management Patrick F. Kennedy, Clinton chief of staff Cheryl D. Mills and Huma Mahmood Abedin about establishing a “stand-alone network” email system.
Judicial Watch President Thomas J. Fitton immediately released a statement calling the ruling “a major victory” for the public. Fitton said “The court-ordered discovery will help determine why the State Department and Mrs. Clinton, even despite receiving numerous FOIA requests, kept the record system secret for years.” In addition, he would not rule out seeking clarity by requesting direct testimony from Clinton. “While Mrs. Clinton’s testimony may not be required initially, it may happen that her testimony is necessary for the Court to resolve the legal issues about her unprecedented email practices.”