Prosecutors decided last week not to charge former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over her secret email server, but a federal court could still force her to testify under oath after a conservative law firm petitioned the judge to force her to talk.
Judicial Watch, which has been pursuing Mrs. Clinton’s emails for years through more than a dozen open-records lawsuits and has already subjected her top aides to depositions, petitioned Judge Emmet G. Sullivan on Friday to order Mrs. Clinton to talk. The group said there are questions only she can answer about how she handled her messages.
“It was her system. She was the primary driving force behind it and was its principal user,” Judicial Watch said in its court filing. “Without Secretary Clinton’s testimony, there can be no fair, rightful and conclusive answer to the court’s questions.”
Mrs. Clinton escaped legal jeopardy when FBI Director James B. Comey concluded that while she risked national security by mailing top-secret information on a server she kept at her home in New York, and while she may well have broken several federal laws, she was so unsophisticated in her understanding of technology and classification that she didn’t know what she was doing.
Speaking for the first time publicly about the findings, Mrs. Clinton said that if she was reckless with security, it was because she was trusting her top aides, who were sending her the material.
She said those with whom she was mailing originated the information and they didn’t see anything wrong with what they were sending, so she didn’t see any reason to be worried herself.
“Over 300 people were on these email exchanges,” she told CNN. “And these were experienced professionals who have had great years of dealing with classified material. And whatever they sent me, they did not believe and had, in my view, no reason to be at the time, that it was classified.”
Mr. Comey said both Mrs. Clinton and her aides were “extremely careless” with classified information, though he cleared them of danger of criminal prosecution as well.
The FBI did not, however, focus on Mrs. Clinton’s cooperation with open-records laws, which is the subject of Judicial Watch’s civil lawsuit trying to get a look at the messages.
Judicial Watch has argued that the State Department should try to recover the 30,000 messages Mrs. Clinton refused to turn over to the government and, according to the FBI, which she then deleted. Judicial Watch says a government employee, rather than Mrs. Clinton’s own attorneys, must review those emails to make sure they don’t contain government records.
Indeed, the FBI concluded that thousands of emails Mrs. Clinton didn’t turn over likely did contain government records.
Judicial Watch said it needs to talk with Mrs. Clinton to get to the bottom of that finding, too.
Mrs. Clinton’s email practices have been the subject of repeated investigations, including one by the State Department, one by the FBI and the one overseen by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Mrs. Clinton sat last weekend for more than three hours with a handful of FBI agents conducting a criminal investigation into her behavior — but the agents did not put her under oath and did not create a transcript of their interview with her.
The former secretary, who later this month plans to accept the Democratic presidential nomination, refused to talk with the State Department inspector general for his investigation into her compliance with open-records laws.
Mr. Comey said Mrs. Clinton did tell his agents some of the details about her decision-making, and he said he accepts her explanation that she used the server — which her husband had set up for his own purposes — out of convenience.
He did conclude that she broke the Federal Records Act, the law that requires government employees to store their official documents so they can be maintained and released to the public, Congress and the press.
Judicial Watch said its case against Mrs. Clinton was bolstered by an appeals court decision Tuesday that top administration officials can’t shield themselves from their open-records obligations by shunting emails off onto private accounts.
The State Department argues that it never had control of Mrs. Clinton’s email so it was never in a position to go through her messages.
Judicial Watch has already subjected several of Mrs. Clinton’s top personal aides to depositions ordered by Judge Sullivan, including Cheryl Mills and Huma Abedin.
Ms. Mills, in her deposition, said nobody gave thought to whether Mrs. Clinton’s messages were being properly saved to comply with the law. Ms. Abedin told Judicial Watch that it would “have to ask Mrs. Clinton” those questions.