Judge to decide If Hillary’s aides at the State Department can be questioned under oath (Updated: Judge Says Yes)

posted at 3:01 pm on February 23, 2016 by John Sexton

A U.S. District Judge heard arguments Tuesday morning that Hillary Clinton’s former aides at the State Department should be questioned under oath about their role in setting up Clinton’s private server and their handling of FOIA requests during her tenure. If the judge agrees with the group’s request, depositions of current and former staffers could extend through the 2016 election.

Judicial Watch claims that public access to records covered by FOIA were defacto denied during Clinton’s tenure. The Washington Post quotes a bit of the court filing in the case:

“For six years, [the department and Clinton] kept the public in the dark about the creation of an ‘off-grid’ record system” overseen by “individuals only accountable to the former secretary,” Judicial Watch counsel Michael Bekesha added in court filings. “The net result is that the integrity of the State Department’s FOIA process has been completely and thoroughly undermined.”

In an interview with the Post, Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton cites a report published last month by the Inspector General for the State Department. The IG faulted the Department for long delays in responding to FOIA requests (longer than any other agency) and instances where responsive records seemed to be overlooked by Clinton’s senior staff:

In December 2012, the nonprofit organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sent a FOIA request to the Department seeking records “sufficient to show the number of email accounts of, or associated with, Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the extent to which those email accounts are identifiable as those of or associated with Secretary Clinton.” On May 10, 2013, IPS replied to CREW, stating that “no records responsive to your request were located.” At the time the request was received, dozens of senior officials throughout the Department, including members of Secretary Clinton’s immediate staff, exchanged emails with the Secretary using the personal accounts she used to conduct official business. OIG found evidence that the Secretary’s then-Chief of Staff [Cheryl Mills] was informed of the request at the time it was received and subsequently tasked staff to follow up. However, OIG found no evidence to indicate that any of these senior officials reviewed the search results or approved the response to CREW. OIG also found no evidence that the S/ES, L, and IPS staff involved in responding to requests for information, searching for records, or drafting the response had knowledge of the Secretary’s email usage. Furthermore, it does not appear that S/ES searched any email records, even though the request clearly encompassed emails.

What this paragraph is really saying is that Clinton’s senior staff kept her private server a secret even from people tasked with responding to FOIA requests about her email arrangements. When the Inspector General sent attorneys to speak with Cheryl Mills about her role in this particular incident, she refused to speak with them.

Now Judicial Watch would like to depose members of Clinton’s staff to learn more about the defacto thwarting of FOIA. The problem for Clinton is that, if the judge grants this request, the depositions will drag on through election day. And that means the story itself will drag on even if the FBI does not recommend the DOJ pursue prosecution for mishandling of classified material. The Post reports the list of people who could be deposed in the Judicial Watch case and it is a who’s who of Clinton confidantes:

In seeking records related to Abedin’s employment, Judicial Watch asked to be allowed to depose or submit written questions to current and former State Department employees and Clinton aides including Undersecretary for Management Patrick F. Kennedy; John F. Hackett, director of information services; Executive Secretary Joseph E. Macmanus; Clinton’s chief of staff, Mills; lawyer David E. Kendall; Abedin; and Bryan Pagliano, a Clinton staff member during her 2008 presidential campaign who helped set up the private server.

As mentioned above, Cheryl Mills has already refused to discuss this topic with investigators working for the IG. Bryan Pagliano, who worked most closely with Hillary on the server, has chosen to plead the 5th rather than answer questions about his role. Forcing these folks to discuss it under oath could be very enlightening.

Update: Reuters reports the judge has made a decision. Hillary’s aides will be questioned under oath:

A federal judge ruled on Tuesday that U.S. State Department officials and aides to Hillary Clinton should be questioned under oath about whether the former secretary of state’s private email system was an effort to skirt open records laws…

Tom Fitton, Judicial Watch’s president, called the ruling “a major victory for the public’s right to know the truth about Hillary Clinton’s email system.” His group will propose that the testimony include former State Department officials, and may also seek to have Clinton give testimony.

Judicial Watch and the State Department have until April to work out a plan to carry out the depositions.

Update 2: Jake Tapper asked Clinton spokesman Robby Mook about the judge’s decision to allow Hillary’s aides to be questioned under oath. Mook replied, “Our campaign is accustomed to these right-wing attacks and they’re going to continue…”

Yes, they are going to continue, right through to the election.

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