U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, the jurist at the center of the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch against the State Department, has scheduled a hearing for next Monday that could seal Hillary Clinton's fate.
At that time, lawyers for Judicial Watch, the State Department, Clinton, and two other government officials will debate whether or not additional "discovery" should be granted in the government watchdog's pursuit of answers regarding Huma Abedin's employment status while she worked for Clinton in the department. Among the requests is Judicial Watch's desire to make Clinton testify under oath in a deposition.
Sullivan previously granted discovery regarding the clintonemail.com system, and Judicial Watch deposed seven former Clinton top aides and current State Department officials, including Abedin, Clinton's former chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, and former State Department IT official Brian Pagliano, who asserted his Fifth Amendment right not to testify dozens of times.
At the time he granted the discovery and depositions, he also ordered that Judicial Watch could come back and seek permission to depose Clinton. Judicial Watch made that request Saturday:
[Judicial Watch] recognizes the significance of asking a former agency head and presumptive nominee for president to sit for a deposition. As the primary driving force behind and principal user of the clintonemail.com system, however, Secretary Clinton's testimony is crucial to understanding how and why the system was created and operated. It also is crucial to understanding why the secretary chose to use the system for all her official email communications, not only initially but also after the system proved to be so problematic for the department, top departmental officials, and the secretary herself. Plaintiff has attempted to obtain as much evidence as possible from other State Department officials, but Secretary Clinton is an indispensable witness and significant questions remain, including why records management officials apparently had no knowledge of the system when so many other officials used the system to communicate with her. Consequently, Secretary Clinton's deposition is necessary ...
Although significant progress has been made in uncovering evidence concerning the creation and use of the clintonemail.com system and the State Department's approach and practice for processing FOIA requests potentially implicating Secretary Clinton's and Ms. Abedin's emails, important questions remain ...
In his statement announcing the conclusion of the FBI investigation into Clinton's email practices, Comey stated, "The FBI also discovered several thousand work-related emails that were not in the group of 30,000 that were returned by Secretary Clinton to State in 2014." The FBI's finding raises questions about Clinton's assertions in her August 8, 2015, declaration that she directed that all her emails on the clintonemail.com system in her custody "that were or potentially were federal records be provided to the Department of State" and that "on information and belief, this has been done." Clinton's deposition is necessary to inquire about the basis of these assertions in light of the FBI's finding.
"Hillary Clinton can answer questions about her email practices that no other witness can," stated Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton. "Her testimony will help the court determine if, how, and why FOIA was thwarted by the Clinton email system."
Additionally, Judicial Watch is seeking depositions from Director of Office of Correspondence and Records of the Executive Secretariat Clarence Finney and former Director of Information Resource Management of the Executive Secretariat John Bentel.
Finney, as chief FOIA officer for the Secretary's office, "had day-to-day responsibility for records management and research, including conducting and coordinating searches in response to FOIA requests, during Secretary Clinton's and Ms. Abedin's tenure." Judicial Watch seeks the deposition of Bentel because when asked by his staff about Clinton's use of a non-state.gov email account to conduct government business:
Mr. Bentel instructed them not to discuss the issue. As a result, obtaining Mr. Bentel's testimony is essential to determine what he knew, when he knew it, and why he did not share the information with the appropriate State Department employees responsible for responding to FOIA requests.
Judicial Watch had given advance notice to the State Department and attorneys for Clinton, Finney and Bentel. Not surprisingly, they all said they would be resisting the requests. Upon receipt of the request, Sullivan immediately ordered the attorneys respond by Tuesday; Judicial Watch will then have until Thursday to offer a response of its own.
This isn't the only request Judicial Watch has pending for a deposition of Clinton. In a separate case, the watchdog requested her testimony in a May 16 request submitted to U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth.
Although he is generally opposed to discovery in FOIA cases, he may be inclined to grant the request if Sullivan doesn't grant one in the case he is presiding over. Lamberth wrote in a March 29 opinion in his case, "where there is evidence of government wrong-doing and bad faith, as here, limited discovery is appropriate, even though it is exceedingly rare in FOIA cases."
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