Hillary Clinton will have to give testimony about her secret email server and account, but it will be in writing rather than in person, a federal judge ruled Friday, delivering a partial victory to the Democratic presidential candidate.
Mrs. Clinton will have until the middle of November — after the election — to answer those questions, Judge Emmet G. Sullivan ruled.
But the State Department must quickly process and release any of the emails the FBI has recovered from Mrs. Clinton’s accounts that are sought in the open-records lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch. Judge Sullivan said those must be released by Sept. 30.
The judge said Mrs. Clinton has “unique firsthand knowledge” of why she refused to use the department’s official email and instead set up a system that shielded her communications from public view for years. But the judge said putting a former Cabinet secretary under oath in person would be too burdensome when written questions would suffice. He also insisted that Judicial Watch be careful about the extent of its questioning.
“The Court directs Judicial Watch to propound questions that are relevant to Secretary Clinton’s unique firsthand knowledge of ‘the creation and operation of clintonemail.com for State Department business, as well as the State Department’s approach and practice for processing FOIA requests that potentially implicated former Secretary Clinton’s and Ms. Abedin’s emails and State’s processing of the FOIA request that is the subject of this action,” Judge Sullivan wrote, referring to Huma Abedin, one of Mrs. Clinton’s top aides who has already given testimony.
Judicial Watch, a conservative public interest law firm that has been trying to pry loose many of the details about Mrs. Clinton’s time as State Department secretary, argued for in-person testimony on the basis that it was the only way to handle follow-up questions that might arise.
The judge, though, said Mrs. Clinton has spoken publicly and left such a broad record that Judicial Watch can anticipate follow-up responses. He also left open the chance that Judicial Watch could come back to the court for follow-ups.
Judge Sullivan said Judicial Watch can take a sworn deposition from John Bentel, a former chief of the information management section that was supposed to handle Mrs. Clinton’s records.
Mr. Bentel, according to an internal investigation, told employees that Mrs. Clinton’s email arrangement had been approved by the department’s legal staff — a claim the investigators were unable to sustain — and told employees not to discuss the situation again.
Another State Department employee, Clarence Finney, who managed open-records requests for Mrs. Clinton’s documents, was excused from testifying. Judge Sullivan said it wasn’t clear what additional information he would be able to provide.
Despite being in charge of her correspondence, Mr. Finney was apparently unaware of Mrs. Clinton’s secret email account.
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said the ruling will help shed light on Mrs. Clinton’s behavior.
“We will move quickly to get these answers,” he said. “The decision is a reminder that Hillary Clinton is not above the law.”
But Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat, told “Fox News Sunday” that Judicial Watch and Republicans on Capitol Hill are hounding Mrs. Clinton. Top House Republicans have sent a referral to the Justice Department to prosecute Mrs. Clinton for lying to Congress about her emails.
“I think what is being requested by my congressional colleagues is strictly a partisan witch hunt,” he said.
Mrs. Clinton exclusively used the email account tied to a server she kept at her home in New York for her government business. After being prodded by a congressional probe, she belatedly handed more than 30,000 messages she said were work-related back to the government in December 2014 — and deleted at least 30,000 other messages.
The FBI looked into the account and found Mrs. Clinton did mishandle classified information — but said no prosecutor would be able to make a case against her.
Still, the FBI found thousands of other work-related emails Mrs. Clinton didn’t turn over to the State Department. The FBI has since provided those emails to the department, which is working to catalog them by next week and to explain how it will make them public.