State Department lawyers want a federal judge to require that any questions asked to current or former State Department officials as part of an ongoing court case involving Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Armageddon elections to come Poll: Trump leads 2024 Republican field with DeSantis in distant second The politics of 'mind control' MORE’s private email server be “limited” and fine-tuned ahead of time.
In a court filing late Tuesday evening, government attorneys asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to limit questions to the creation of Clinton’s personal email system.
Other topics — such as the handling of classified information, the FBI’s ongoing investigation connected to the server or the unusual employment arrangement of longtime Clinton aide Huma Abedin — should be off-limits, the government insisted.
“State submits that the scope of discovery must be limited and specified at the outset to prevent questioning that exceeds the limited inquiry that the court has authorized,” lawyers said in their motion. The evidence-gathering process, which can include sworn depositions, is formally known as discovery.
The filing comes as the Obama administration and conservative legal watchdog group Judicial Watch try to hammer out terms of depositions for multiple current and former top aides of Clinton. Last month, Judicial Watch asked the court to allow it to question eight people, including Abedin, Clinton's ex-chief of staff Cheryl Mills and current State Undersecretary for Management Patrick Kennedy.
In his February order, Judge Emmet Sullivan said any questioning would need to be “narrowly tailored” to the matter at hand.
The State Department opposed the effort to grant depositions and maintained its opposition in its new filing, even while acknowledging the judge’s order.
Government lawyers said in their filing that the five current federal employees whom Judicial Watch asked to depose should have 10 days after Sullivan makes his order to determine, via written statements, what they knew about Clinton’s arrangement. If their knowledge was limited, lawyers indicated, the officials might not need to be subjected to questioning.
Lawyers also asked that federal officials be given three days to review deposition transcripts for the possibility of classified information, even though the government “does not anticipate” any will be included.
The process is likely to stretch into the summer, extending the debate over Clinton’s private server even deeper into the presidential election calendar. Clinton exclusively used email accounts housed on the server during her tenure as secretary of State, which critics say amounted to the thwarting of public record keeping laws and jeopardized national security.
Following Tuesday evening’s filing, Judicial Watch has 10 days to respond. Sullivan will rule on how to proceed on April 15.
Late last month, a second judge in a separate case connected to Clinton's email system opened the door to additional depositions, potentially above and beyond those in the Sullivan case.