Judge rules for Clinton on emails

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A federal judge on Friday sided with the State Department against a conservative legal advocacy group trying to speed up the government's release of some Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhat did Peter Strzok do? The strategic blunder of ‘Trump-as-Hitler’ Races to watch in Tuesday’s primaries MORE emails.

Judge Amit Mehta said that it would be “unwise and potentially risky” to order the government to quickly release some of the 329 emails specifically related to the 2012 terror attack in Benghazi, Libya, which it had recently discovered.

Those emails — along with tens of thousands of others — are already on pace to be released by next February, as a result of a separate lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act, said Mehta, a judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, who was appointed by President Obama.

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The best solution would be “to keep this on course,” Mehta said, since the government has already “made concrete commitments” in the other case.

The decision is a blow to Judicial Watch, the right-leaning legal group that has filed 20 lawsuits over the Clinton emails.

Judicial Watch had asked for the Benghazi-related emails to be pulled out of that larger tranche and given special attention.

“This is just continued delay,” argued Judicial Watch lawyer Ramona Cotca, who complained that the “case has been pending for months.”

The decision also underscores the deeply tangled web of legal cases surrounding Clinton's emails, which have become a headache for the State Department as well as a drag on her presidential campaign.

At issue were 242 emails to or from Clinton in 2012 that relate to the Benghazi attack, which the State Department had found during a second search in response to Judicial Watch's request under the Freedom of Information Act.

Many of those emails had not yet been disclosed to Congress, Judicial Watch said, and might have remained buried were it not for their lawsuit.

One email that has been made public was sent by Clinton to her daughter, Chelsea, claiming that an “an al Qaeda-like group” was responsible for the Benghazi attack, which killed four Americans including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

Republican lawmakers unveiled that message during a marathon 11-hour hearing with Clinton in the Select Committee on Benghazi last month, and claimed that it was proof that Clinton had one message for her family and another for the American public. The Obama administration’s initial public explanation about the attacks was that it was related to an anti-Muslim YouTube video that had sparked protests in other parts of the globe.

That email came to light when the department responded to the Judicial Watch case, said group president Tom Fitton.

“The only way they had that Sept. 11 smoking gun is become of this FOIA case,” he told reporters after the Friday morning court hearing. “So who the heck knows what else is out there.”

In addition to the 242 emails from 2012, Judicial Watch is also trying to force into the light 87 emails that Clinton sent in January of 2013 — her last month of work at the State Department — which were never subpoenaed by the House Benghazi committee.

Government lawyer Robert Prince claimed that there was already “a very complicated process” for releasing the 55,000 pages of emails that Clinton had marked as work-related — including the new emails specifically focusing on Benghazi. That process includes a lengthy series of reviews, he said, to make sure no classified or sensitive material is released.

“All of these emails are somewhere in the process,” he said.

Forcing the government to pull some emails out of that review would be an “enormous administrative undertaking,” he insisted.

Later on Friday morning, another federal judge weighed in on a separate Judicial Watch public records case, involving Clinton’s unusual email setup.

The State Department has identified 16,900 pages of possible records that may be suited for release in that case, it said, and was slowly making its way through reviewing them.

Judicial Watch seemed satisfied with the progress in that case.

“Things seems to be  moving along fairly well,” Judicial Watch lawyer Lauren Burke said.  

This story was updated at 11:51 a.m.