A federal judge granted a request from conservative watchdog Judicial Watch to question former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in person and under oath about her private email server and the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack.
“The Court agrees with Judicial Watch — it is time to hear directly from Secretary Clinton,” U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth said in an 11-page ruling on Monday. It is the latest twist in a nearly six-year-long case related to Clinton’s reasons for setting up her illicit private email server and whether she was attempting to avoid Freedom of Information Act requests by doing so.
The judge said Monday that “Judicial Watch correctly points out that many questions regarding her understanding of these obligations remain unanswered.” He listed some remaining questions: “How did she arrive at her belief that her private server emails would be preserved by normal State Department processes for email retention? … Did she realize State was giving ‘no records’ responses to her FOIA requests for emails? … And why did she think that using a private server to conduct State Department business was permissible under the law in the first place?”
The FBI investigated Clinton’s use of the server, hosted in the basement of her home in Chappaqua, New York, while she was secretary of state from 2009 to 2014. Although former FBI Director James Comey found that Clinton was “extremely careless” in handling classified emails, no criminal charges were recommended against anyone following the bureau’s Midyear Exam investigation.
Judicial Watch argued that Secretary Clinton’s existing testimony has only scratched the surface of the inquiry into her motives for setting up and using a private server,” Lamberth said. “Secretary Clinton has repeatedly stated that convenience was the main reason for using a private server, but Judicial Watch justifiably seeks to explore that explanation further.”
Lamberth pointed to an email exchange between two State Department officials in December 2010, where the first official sent an email that included Clinton’s private email address to other State Department officials.
“Be careful, you just gave the secretary’s personal email address to a bunch of folks …” the second official emailed back.
“Should I say don’t forward?” the first official asked. “Did not notice.”
“Yeah — I just know that she guards it pretty closely,” the second official replied.
Lamberth asked: “Was she aware of this attempt — or any other attempts — to keep other State Department employees in the dark?”
The judge noted even longtime Clinton confidant Huma Abedin previously testified that Judicial Watch “would have to ask Mrs. Clinton” if she thought her private email server skirted FOIA obligations.
The judge said Clinton’s written answers to questions in this and related cases “were either incomplete, unhelpful, or cursory at best,” and “her responses left many more questions than answers.”
“And so … Judicial Watch will be permitted to clarify and further explore Secretary Clinton’s answers in person and immediately after she gives them,” Lamberth ruled.
A State Department review related to its email practices found 91 “valid violations” attributable to 38 individuals and another 497 violations that couldn’t be tied to any specific person. The review found “some instances” of classified information being “inappropriately introduced into an unclassified system.” But investigators uncovered “no persuasive evidence of systematic, deliberate mishandling of classified information.”
Nearly a dozen witnesses have been deposed as part of Judicial Watch’s FOIA lawsuits, stemming back to 2014. One main controversy is why 33,000 of her emails were deleted despite a congressional preservation order. The FBI was only able to recover about 5,000 of the scrubbed emails, and they were released in tranches to Judicial Watch into 2019.
Clinton claimed she “never received nor sent any material that was marked classified,” but Comey announced in July 2016 that 110 emails did contain classified information. The DOJ’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz concluded in the summer of 2018 that texts between FBI special agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page “cast a cloud over the FBI’s handling of the Midyear investigation.”
Judicial Watch also sought to question Clinton and her former chief of staff Cheryl Mills about the talking points for former United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice’s appearances on television shows following the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Members of Ansar al Sharia launched a coordinated assault on Sept. 11, 2012, killing U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, foreign service officer Sean Smith, and CIA contractors Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty. Clinton, Rice, and others incorrectly blamed the attack on a YouTube video.
“The Court holds that Secretary Clinton and Ms. Mills cannot be questioned about the underlying actions taken after the Benghazi attack, but they may be questioned about their knowledge of the existence of any emails, documents, or text messages related to the Benghazi attack,” Lamberth ruled.
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