Earlier this week on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016, Democratic frontrunner and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton received some bad news; she might have to give a deposition in an FOIA lawsuit against the State Department over her private email server. Presiding Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted a motion in Conservative advocacy group Judicial Watch’s FOIA lawsuit permitting discovery in their case. The judge is allowing for a limited evidence collection process and will decide in April about subpoenas for Clinton and her aides.
Judge Sullivan granting the motion might lead to Clinton and her close aides including former Deputy Chief of Staff Huma Abedin to being subpoenaed to give testimony or hand over other private email exchanges from Clinton’s tenure. Judge Sullivan, however, chose not to allow a subpoena at this moment, and he is waiting to see the results of the preliminary discovery.
Sullivan called “This is the atypical case,” during the ruling hearing, it is rare that the courts even allow the discovery process in cases against the federal government. Sullivan granted the motion because the case is so different since the State Department allowed Clinton to use exclusively a private email server for official State business, and they allowed her to take her server with her after she left her post.
The next step, Judicial Watch has to submit their discovery plan to Sullivan before proceeding. Although the judge has not granted them to subpoena Clinton Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton issued a statement that that is their goal. Fitton called the ruling “a major victory” and 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. 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.”
There are only 50 active FOIA lawsuits about Clinton and aides emails on her private server. Judicial Watch’s lawsuit is one of many conservative groups have filed against the State department regarding Clinton’s tenure and her email practices. Judicial Watch’s case involves a request they made in 2013 requesting a document about Abedin, her working arrangement and a potential conflict of interest at the Department.
Abedin, 40 a close Clinton confidante served as Clinton’s deputy chief of staff when she was Secretary of State and is now serving as Clinton’s vice chairman for her campaign. Abedin has been a loyal devotee to Clinton since the 1990s when Bill Clinton was president, and Abedin, a student at George Washington University. Abedin has been feeling the heat because while she was deputy chief of staff she was working three other jobs including as a private contractor for a Clinton associated consulting firm while working with classified information at the State Department.
Abedin had a special designation as a Special Government Employee (SGE) at the State Department. Abedin also pursued work for Clinton’s husband former President Bill Clinton’s Clinton Foundation, and Hillary’s transition to private life. Abedin along with former Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills both had email accounts on Clinton’s private server.
Although Judicial Watch and the State Department resolved their first conflict, Clinton and Abedin’s usage of the private server led to the current lawsuit since their emails were not available to be searched with an FOIA request. Sullivan also did say whether the State Department should be forced to acquire Clinton’s aides’ so-called private emails. Judge Sullivan said it is “an issue worthy of discussion at the appropriate time.”
Judge Sullivan is upset with Clinton’s usage of a private server, but even more so at the state Department. Sullivan said at the hearing, “It just boggles the mind a little that the State Department allowed this practice to occur in the first place. It is very, very troubling.” Judge Sullivan intends to make his decision on any subpoenas, which he will “give some thought,” in April after the State Department responds to the plaintiff’s discovery requests, and then he can see if they have “taken adequate steps to obtain an search official records.”
Judge Sullivan said, “This is a public forum. This is about the public’s right to know. There has been a constant drip, drip, drip of declarations. When does it stop?” The judge noted there is “at least a “‘reasonable suspicion’ that the State Department violated records laws and mishandled
public access to official government records under the federal Freedom of Information Act.”
Both parties have until April 12 to detail their discovery plans to Judge Sullivan for his approval. Judicial Watch has to file an initial plan by March 15, and then the State Department has until April 5 to respond, with Judicial Watch submitting they counter response ten days later. The case is sure to drag on long past the 2016 presidential election.