MANHATTAN (CN) — With the clock ticking for electors to vote, a renowned art-repatriation attorney moved closer on Tuesday to obtaining search-warrant records that formed the basis of the FBI’s probe into Hillary Clinton.
Criticism of the agency has been ubiquitous in the wake of FBI Director James Comey’s move, merely 11 days before the election, to reignite chatter about Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state.
Though the FBI had closed its Clinton investigation back in July, Comey announced in late October that the bureau obtained a search warrant to review emails from the candidate’s top aide Huma Abedin.
The investigation uncovered no new evidence against Clinton, but many say the speculation that it would contributed to sinking her campaign.
Three former attorneys general and nearly 100 angry former prosecutors were among those who denounced Comey’s announcement, which many saw as politically motivated.
The controversy soon drew the attention of E. Randol Schoenberg , an attorney whose record recovering Nazi-looted art earned a Hollywood depiction in the film “Woman in Gold.”
Turning his focus away from stolen masterpieces, Schoenberg brought a Dec. 7 complaint against the Department of Justice under the Freedom of Information Act. Separately, the attorney petitioned the Southern District of New York to unseal the warrant.
David Rankin, an attorney for Schoenberg with the firm Rankin & Taylor, left little doubt that they want the information unsealed before the electors vote.
“A separate Freedom of Information Act request has been made, but will not be decided in an adequate time-frame considering the impending vote of the Electoral College on Dec. 19, 2016,” the complaint states.
U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel spurred the case along on Tuesday afternoon, setting a Thursday deadline for the Department of Justice and Schoenberg’s attorneys to brief him privately about the case.
Attorney Rankin welcomed the timeline.
"We are pleased with how seriously Judge Castel is taking this matter,” Rankin said in an email. “The public deserves to know why this investigation was reopened. We hope our work here sheds some much-needed light on the basis for FBI Director Comey's decisions.”
At the hearng, Justice Department attorney Jennie Leah Kneedler spoke vaguely about how the warrant’s disclosure could compromise an “unrelated investigation,” presumably of Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of Abedin whose name is listed on the docket.
Authorities previously confirmed investigating Weiner following reports that the disgraced politician sent sexually explicit text messages to an underage teen.
“They've made no allegations whatsoever regarding the unrelated criminal investigation through which the email documents were obtained, and that's clearly relevant to the question of whether there is a continuing need for secrecy,” Kneedler, the government attorney, said.
Judge Castel noted that Comey already has given that now-completed case much public exposure.
“It appears to me that, in the case of Secretary Clinton, she has been identified by name, and the letter of Director Comey seems to indicate that investigation is now completed,” the judge said.
Castel also suggested that the government can redact any information that could improperly disclose information about that “unrelated investigation.”
“It could be potentially terribly unfair to a person who ultimately winds up not being charged,” Castel said.
Clinton, Abedin and Weiner also have the opportunity to brief the court before Thursday.
In an interview with Newsday, Rankin explained why the FBI's behavior was suspicious.
“This whole very unusual process needs to be examined,” Schoenberg told the paper. “The public has a right to a transparent process, and if a mistake was made we have a right to find out and hold people accountable, and if someone improperly influenced the process we have a right to follow that and see where that path leads.”
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