The latest collection of private emails turned over to the State Department by top Clinton aides over the summer may also contain classified information, an attorney for the U.S. Department of State said in court on Tuesday.
D.C. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan ordered the State Department in May to comply with a public records request from Citizens United by this month, but the department pressed the court on Tuesday to extend the deadline until December.
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While Judge Sullivan did not grant or deny the extension, he questioned the slow pace and ordered the State Department to conduct a preliminary search by early next month.
An attorney for the State Department attributed the delay to the fact that Clinton aides Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills did not turn over many work-related emails from their private email addresses until this past summer. These documents are only now being processed by the State Department.
The attorney for the Justice Department, Elizabeth Shapiro, said the process has also been slow due to staffing limitations, in part because the employees responsible for reviewing the documents must have proper security clearances. Although the documents were turned over to State Department officials in June and July, they have not yet been reviewed to comply with the Citizens United request.
"Many of these documents may have national security information in them, classified information in them," said Shapiro.
Concerns about whether Clinton and her aides violated the law by sending classified information through private email channels have been growing in recent months.
The Inspector General for the Intelligence Community said in August that several of the emails turned over by Hillary Clinton from her private server earlier this year contained highly classified information. The FBI has also opened its own investigation. Clinton has argued that the emails were not classified at the time they were sent.
Citizens United is requesting correspondence from top State Department officials under Clinton related to the Benghazi attack, the Clinton Foundation, and the outside employment.
The State Department asked the court on Tuesday to extend its deadline for turning over the materials until Dec. 6—or potentially later, depending on the number of documents that the department finds are responsive to Citizens United’s request.
Sullivan questioned why this extension was necessary during Tuesday’s hearing.
He gave the State Department until Oct. 5 to complete a preliminary search of the latest tranche of emails turned over by Abedin and Mills, saying he estimated this should not take more than a few hours.
The latest batch of correspondence is separate from the collection of emails previously turned over by Hillary Clinton from her private server, as well as the emails that Abedin and Mills sent over the official State Department email system.
Shapiro said Abedin’s emails have just recently been put into an electronic search format and that Mills’ are still being processed. She said they would likely be ready to search by next week.
Citizens United President David Bossie commended Judge Sullivan’s actions after the hearing, saying the group is "looking forward to the next step." He also said that State Department officials have been slow-rolling the release of these documents in order to protect Hillary Clinton.
"They want to buy time because the former secretary of state is running for president," said Bossie.