Clinton Email Scandal: Trouble Ahead for Democratic Presidential Candidate?

State department lawyers expect to make the nearly 15,000 emails – recently recovered by the FBI – public in batches starting three weeks before election.

US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign event in Des Moines, Iowa, United States, June 14, 2015. Credit: Reuters/Jim Young

US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign event in Des Moines, Iowa, United States, June 14, 2015. Credit: Reuters/Jim Young

The FBI recently recovered nearly 15,000 e-mails that were cached on the private server that was used by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton when she was the secretary of state. The e-mails are set to be made public just before the US presidential election in November.

US district court judge James E. Boasberg directed the state department to assess the 14,900 documents that it received from the FBI as part of the now-closed investigation into Clinton’s use of her private e-mail server. He ordered the department to determine a plan to review and release the documents, and report back to the court by September 23.

Boasberg is supervising the production of emails as part of a federal public-records lawsuit filed by conservative watchdog organisation Judicial Watch, which advocates high standards of ethics and morality in the nation’s public life.

Lawyer Lisa Olson, who is representing the state department, told the judge that the officials had not yet concluded which parts of Clinton’s e-mails were work related and which parts were personal.

In a statement after a hearing at the US district courthouse, Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton said the group was “pleased” that Boasberg rejected the department’s plans to start the release of the documents on October 14 and ordered it to prioritise Clinton’s e-mails. “We’re trying to work with the state department here, but let’s be clear, they have slow-walked and stonewalled the release of these records. They’ve had many of them since July 25 and not one record has yet been released and we don’t understand why that’s the case.”

The tentative timetable suggests that the earliest the new emails could be released is October. The state department released the original emails in monthly installments over a year ago, although it missed several court-ordered deadlines owing to its staff and additional agencies examining the documents for classified material. The e-mails have raised multiple questions about possible conflicts of interest between the Clinton Foundation and Clinton’s position as the secretary of state.

Judicial Watch also released 725 pages of correspondence from one of Clinton’s closest aides – Huma Abedin – revealing how the Clintons’ international network of friends and donors was able to connect with her and her inner circle during her time at the state department.

They claimed that Abedin “provided influential Clinton Foundation donors special, expedited access to the secretary of state. In more than a dozen email exchanges, Abedin provided expedited, direct access to Clinton for donors who had contributed from $25,000-$10 million to the Clinton Foundation.”

The new set of e-mails are a sizeable addition to the 30,000 e-mails that Clinton’s lawyers deemed to be work-related and handed in to the department in December 2014. While the e-mails were not included in the initial trove of 55,000 pages that Clinton’s lawyers sent to the state department in 2015, FBI director James B. Comey stated that he did not believe the e-mails had been “intentionally deleted.” Nevertheless, he postulated that Clinton’s handling of classified information during her years at the state department was “extremely careless.”

State department spokesman Mark Toner stated that the agency had earlier agreed to willingly hand over e-mails sent or received by Clinton in her official capacity as secretary of state between 2009-2013, but that thousands of documents still needed to be “carefully appraised at state” to separate official and personal records. “The state has not yet had the opportunity to complete a review of the documents to determine whether they are agency records or if they are duplicative of documents [that the] state has already produced through the Freedom of Information Act,” Toner said.

Brian Fallon, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign, stated, “As we have always said, Hillary Clinton provided the state department with all the work-related emails she had in her possession in 2014. We are not sure what additional materials the Justice Department may have located. But if the state department determines any of them to be work-related, then obviously we support those documents being released publicly as well.”

Republicans, who have pushed to keep the issue of Clinton’s e-mail use alive, even after the FBI officially closed its investigation in July without recommending any criminal charges, commented on the release of the new e-mails. “Hillary Clinton seems incapable of telling the truth,” Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus said. “Clinton’s pattern of serial dishonesty is completely unacceptable for a candidate seeking the nation’s highest office and her refusal to tell the truth and own up to her poor judgment is a preview of how she would conduct herself if elected president.”

“The process for reviewing these emails needs to be expedited, public disclosure should begin before early voting starts and the emails in question should be released in full before election day,” he said.

The existence of the e-mails marks further trouble for the Democratic presidential nominee, who claimed that she turned over all of her work-related messages in December 2014. Certain critics fear the Obama administration may attempt to delay the release of a majority of the e-mails until after the presidential election in November. “If they wanted the records out quickly, they’d be out quickly. If they don’t want the records out quickly, they’ll let politics intrude on the process and the American people won’t see them until election day,” said Fitton.

The state department has yet to sift through the documents contained in the newly discovered e-mails to decide whether any will be withheld or redacted owing either to their personal nature, or for security reasons. Additionally, certain emails may be duplicates of ones that have previously been released. The agency has undertaken the release of e-mails and documents every week beginning October 14. They will also provide a status update so that judge Boasberg can decide which ones would require being produced under the Freedom of Information Act request filed by Judicial Watch.