A federal judge ruled Tuesday that top aides to Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton should be questioned under oath about her use of a private email server as secretary of state, raising new political and legal complications for Clinton as she tries to maintain momentum for her campaign.
The ruling granted a request from the conservative group Judicial Watch, which sought testimony from State Department officials and members of Clinton’s inner circle to determine whether Clinton’s email arrangement thwarted federal open-records laws.
In setting an April 12 deadline for Judicial Watch and the government’s lawyers to lay out a plan to proceed, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan created the prospect that key Clinton aides would face questions just as she tries to secure the Democratic nomination and pivot to a hotly contested November general election.
The judge said that months of piecemeal revelations to date about Clinton and the State Department’s handling of the email controversy created “at least a ‘reasonable suspicion’ ” that public access to official government records under the federal Freedom of Information Act was undermined.
“There has been a constant drip, drip, drip of declarations. When does it stop?” said Sullivan, a 1994 Bill Clinton appointee who has overseen several politically sensitive FOIA cases. “This case is about the public’s right to know,” he said.
Going to be difficult accusing a Bill Clinton appointee of being part of a vast right-wing conspiracy, yet here they go:
“This is one of several lawsuits filed by the same right-wing group, which will stop at nothing in pursuing the Clintons, just as they have done since the 1990s,” said Clinton campaign spokesman Nick Merrill.
On Tuesday, Sullivan said he might also at some point direct the State Department to subpoena Clinton, Abedin or others to return all of the emails sent and received from Clinton’s personal email system, not merely those they or their attorneys have deemed work-related and submitted to the State Department.
The suggestion was an ominous sign for Clinton that 31,000 emails she has said were purely personal and deleted could make their way into the public realm.