Discovery Plan Approved|in Clinton Email Brawl

     WASHINGTON (CN) – A federal judge approved a plan Wednesday to let a legal watchdog question six former Hillary Clinton aides and State Department employees about the former secretary of state’s use of a private email server.
     Conservative legal activist group Judicial Watch will be allowed to take sworn testimony from Clinton’s former Deputy Chief of Staff Huma Abedin as well as her former Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled.
     The decision comes three years after Judicial Watch filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act for the State Department’s employment records on Abedin.
     Though the parties closed an ensuing court battle over the request in 2014, reporting by the New York Times last year on Clinton’s use of a private server while in office gave the case new life.
     Sullivan noted Wednesday that discovery is rare in Freedom of Information Act cases, but it will help assess Judicial Watch’s claim that the State Department did not turn over every stone in its initial response to the watchdog’s request.
     “In sum, the circumstances surrounding approval of Mrs. Clinton’s use of clintonemail.com for official government business, as well as the manner in which it was operated, are issues that need to be explored in discovery to enable the Court to resolve, as a matter of law, the adequacy of the State Department’s search of relevant records in response to Judicial Watch’s FOIA request,” the 15-page opinion states.
     Sullivan granted Judicial Watch’s motion for discovery at a hearing on Feb. 23, and ordered the parties to come to an agreement on how to go forward. Though they agreed to a plan, today’s opinion notes that the State Department still objects to the discovery process.
     As part of the deal, Judicial Watch will also be allowed to question Bryan Pagliano, a State Department employee who reportedly maintained the private email server, as well as three other former State Department employees who worked with Clinton.
     Pagliano reportedly agreed to work with the Justice Department in its criminal investigation into the private email server and invoked the Fifth Amendment when questioned by Congress last year.
     Sullivan even left the door open for Judicial Watch to depose Clinton, but noted it would have to request to do so at a later time.
     Judicial Watch will have eight weeks to complete discovery, and the State Department can then review the transcripts and recordings of the depositions. Any information that is classified or related to a law-enforcement investigation could be subject to redaction, according to the opinion.
     Sullivan narrowly laid out what Judicial Watch will be able to ask during discovery, limiting the group to questions about the creation and operation of Clinton’s private email server, as well as about the State Department’s process for handling FOIA requests that might have reached the server.
     He also specified restrictions on Judicial Watch’s questioning that would prevent the watchdog from digging too deeply into details about the server that, while not directly relevant to the FOIA case, have been the focus of much of the public debate over the server.
     “Plaintiff is not entitled to discovery on matters unrelated to whether State conducted an adequate search in response to Plaintiff’s FOIA request, including without limitation: the substantive information sought by Plaintiff in its FOIA request in this case, which involves the employment status of a single employee, the storage, handling, transmission or protection of classified information, including cybersecurity issues; and any pending FBI or law enforcement investigations,” Sullivan wrote.

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