State Department Consents to Depositions Over Clinton Email Server

Granting request for discovery rare in FOIA cases

• April 18, 2016 7:10 pm


The U.S. State Department reached an agreement with the watchdog group Judicial Watch on Friday that would allow the organization’s attorneys to depose Hillary Clinton’s top aides about the "creation and operation" of her private email server.

The agreement is the latest legal victory for Judicial Watch, which has been suing the State Department for public records related to Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state. U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan approved Judicial Watch’s request for discovery last month, a rare move in a Freedom of Information Act case.

Judicial Watch is seeking information on whether Clinton’s email server allowed her and top aides to evade public records laws and whether State Department officials intentionally obstructed efforts to obtain public information.

The watchdog group has asked to depose Clinton’s top advisers, Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills, State Department official Patrick Kennedy, and other senior officials.

The State Department consented to this in its joint discovery agreement with Judicial Watch on Friday. However, the watchdog group did remove Donald Reid, an official with the department’s security bureau, from its requested witness list.

"The scope of permissible discovery shall be as follows: the creation and operation of for State Department business," said the agreement. "[A]s well as the State Department’s approach and practice for processing FOIA requests that potentially implicated former Secretary Clinton’s and Ms. Abedin’s emails and State’s processing of the FOIA request that is the subject of this action."

Judicial Watch also agreed that the State Department could request up to three business days to review any recorded depositions or transcripts and "if necessary, to seek an order precluding public release, quotation or paraphrase of any inadvertently disclosed classified information," including information about ongoing FBI probes. The FBI has been investigating whether classified information was improperly transmitted over Clinton’s server.

Judge Sullivan will still have to approve the proposal before it can go forward. According to the agreement, Judicial Watch would have eight weeks after Judge Sullivan’s approval to complete the discovery process, but could request an extension if necessary.

The proposal also specified that Judicial Watch could not seek information outside the scope of its initial discovery request, including "on matters unrelated to whether State conducted an adequate search in response to Plaintiff’s FOIA request." Judicial Watch’s lawsuit in this case is seeking information related to Huma Abedin’s employment status, although the group will not be able to request that information through the discovery process.

Judicial Watch has now been granted discovery in two public records lawsuits against the State Department. Late last month, U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth also agreed to allow "limited discovery," citing "evidence of government wrong-doing and bad faith."