Any work emails connected to Hillary Clinton that were newly discovered by the FBI on disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner’s computer will eventually be made public, Justice Department lawyers suggested Monday at a federal court hearing in a separate, long-running lawsuit over public records.
At the same hearing, the State Department also said that given the time it is taking the department to clear emails for public release, it will be reviewing and releasing FBI-retrieved emails from Clinton’s time as secretary of state throughout her presidency, if she wins, and into 2022.
Justice Department lawyers told a federal judge in Washington that they expect the release of any newly discovered emails on Weiner’s computer to be covered under an existing July 8 State Department request to FBI Director James B. Comey in the long-running lawsuit.
Weiner, a Democratic former congressman from New York, is the estranged husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin, and the new emails were found on a computer he used that was searched as part of an investigation into lewd text messages Weiner is alleged to have sent to a teenage girl.
On Sunday, Comey said in a letter to congressional committee chairmen that investigators had worked “around the clock” to review the newly found emails. The emails found were duplicates of correspondence investigators had reviewed earlier or were personal emails that did not pertain to State Department business, government officials said. Comey said investigators had found nothing to alter its months-old decision not to seek charges against Clinton for her use of a private email server.
The July request from the State Department to the FBI seeks the handover of any potential federal records found in the FBI’s investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email system as secretary from 2009 to 2013.
The department already is in the middle of reviewing about 5,700 work-related emails sent directly to or from Clinton that were uncovered by the FBI and has fast-tracked that review, pressing to complete the process by March.
But it will take years for most of the emails to be cleared under public-records laws and released, according to the pace laid out Monday by government lawyers.
For the first time, Justice Department lawyers said they expected it could take until 2022 for the State Department to finish reviewing 31,200 emails sent to or from people other than Clinton, such as aides and other government officials, that the FBI previously found in searches of devices connected to Clinton’s system and other government email accounts. Those 31,200 emails were turned over to the State Department in July.
U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg, a 2011 Obama appointee, balked at the proposed time frame, saying to Justice Department attorney Lisa Olson, “I’m not satisfied with saying, ‘Fine, go ahead and take five years to do this.’ ”
The proposal also drew criticism from the plaintiff in the lawsuit, Judicial Watch, a conservative legal group that has filed dozens of civil open-records lawsuits against the department for Clinton-related documents.
“If you need to do this in a rush, apparently you can do it 10 days,” Judicial Watch attorney Chris Fedeli said, referring to Comey’s statement Sunday.
Olson based the 2022 estimate on the State Department’s massive caseload of public-records requests, and its proposal to continue processing 500 pages a month in the Judicial Watch case. Documents must be turned over by the FBI, loaded into a review system, appraised to separate official from personal records, and then reviewed to see whether they are related to the Judicial Watch records request and not exempt by law from release, Olson said.
Boasberg set a Nov. 29 deadline for the government to state whether the FBI had given the newly uncovered emails to the State Department, and until March to revisit its five-year plan to review the 31,200 emails previously turned over.