Hillary Clinton’s attorney fought Monday to prevent the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee from giving sworn testimony as part of a lawsuit concerning her use of a private email system while serving as secretary of state.
The courtroom drama will linger, however, as Clinton readies for the Democratic convention next week and Republican lawmakers push for more investigations into the email system.
U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan said Monday in his Washington courtroom that he will decide later whether Clinton must be deposed as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the conservative legal watchdog group Judicial Watch.
Michael Bekesha , the group's lawyer, told Sullivan that the organization only needed three hours to ask Clinton questions about her motivation for using the private email system throughout her tenure at the State Department — and whether it was done to prevent records from becoming public under FOIA.
“We’re not on a witch hunt here,” Bekesha said. The group’s lawsuit seeks email records from that system and focuses on the public records implications of Clinton and a top aide, Huma Abedin's, use of the private email system.
But Clinton’s attorney, David Kendall, said the elephant in the room was the campaign of his client, who has already answered questions under oath in congressional testimony about why she used the system. She has made other comments, such as on her campaign website, and to FBI agents in a probe about her handling of classified records on the system.
“They want to take a deposition, and it’s just not justified,” Kendall told Sullivan. “The answer’s not going to change.”
Clinton continued an email practice that she used when serving in the Senate and on the campaign trail, Kendall said. Previous State Department employees used private email. While the State Department shouldn’t get a purple ribbon for records management, there is “not one scintilla of evidence” that Clinton set up the email system to thwart the public records law, Kendall said.
And the effort is futile since Clinton has already turned over all the records to the FBI, he added. “The public’s right to know is going to be vindicated here,” Kendall said.
Clinton has already faced political backlash after an FBI probe found she handled classified records on the system with “extreme carelessness,” but did not commit a crime.
Sullivan asked attorneys questions about deposing a presidential nominee and former agency head during the campaign. The judge expressed concern that there’s no reason Clinton would give a different answer in a deposition than she has in sworn statements, particularly when legal precedents require former top agency officials to only be deposed in rare circumstances.
And in questions that Sullivan cautioned not to read into, he repeatedly asked the lawyers about possibly requiring Clinton to answer written questions under oath. Still, he took the issue under advisement and said he would “issue a ruling as soon as I can.”
Judicial Watch has deposed seven current and former State Department employees in the lawsuit.
The group’s deposition request coincides with continued scrutiny of Clinton’s email system, including on Capitol Hill. House Republicans formally asked federal prosecutors to investigate whether Hillary Clinton lied to Congress about classified information on her private email server. Attorney General Loretta Lynch was also asked about her decision not to prosecute Clinton during a Judiciary Committee hearing last week.