Hillary Clinton ordered to answer questions about email scandal

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 August, 2016, 11:28pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 August, 2016, 11:28pm

Hillary Clinton won a US court order denying a conservative watchdog group’s bid to force her to submit to questioning under oath about her use of a private e-mail server while secretary of state, but she’ll need to answer at least some of those queries in writing.

US District Judge Emmet Sullivan on Friday set an October 14 deadline for Judicial Watch to submit its questions to the Democratic presidential nominee, meaning her replies may not come until after the November 8 election. Judicial Watch said it will act quickly, signalling Clinton’s answers may arrive in the final weeks of the campaign.

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The email controversy spurred a federal criminal investigation and has dogged Clinton for more than a year as she vies for the White House. Her Republican opponent, Donald Trump, and his party have made it the centrepiece of their attacks on her honesty and credibility.

Aiding that endeavour has been Judicial Watch, a Washington-based group that uses Freedom of Information Act lawsuits to extract records from the federal government. In a suit filed in 2013, closed and then revived, it has pressed for information about Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s overlapping employment at the US State Department, the Clinton Foundation and an outside consulting firm while the Democratic nominee was the top US diplomat.

Tom Fitton, president of the watchdog group, said the organisation was pleased with the court’s order, calling it a reminder the candidate wasn’t above the law. “We will move quickly to get these answers,” he said.

Earlier this year, the organisation won an order giving it permission to question members of Clinton’s State Department staff about its response to FOIA requests and about the email system based in her Chappaqua, New York home.

Telling Judge Sullivan they were dissatisfied with what they’d learned, the group’s lawyers pressed him last month to let them depose the former secretary of state. Just days earlier, FBI Director James Comey said that while he wouldn’t recommend bringing charges, Clinton and her aides had been “extremely careless” in their handling of sensitive government information. On July 6, the Justice Department declared the matter closed.

Long-time Clinton lawyer David Kendall objected to the Judicial Watch request at a July 18 hearing. In court papers he called their request “futile” and said the information sought was already public.

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“We’re not here writing on a blank slate,” Kendall told Sullivan in court. “They’ve had all the discovery they’ve asked for.”

The judge concluded Clinton’s testimony was necessary to explain the purpose of the private email system, but that an in-person deposition wasn’t needed to do so. He ordered the organisation to “propound questions that are relevant to Secretary Clinton’s unique firsthand knowledge” of the system and of her department’s FOIA processing practices.