Hillary Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon wrote in May 2015 that Department of Justice officials had informed him about a status hearing in a civil case over his boss’s emails, according to hacked messages made public by the WikiLeaks organization. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump wasted no time seizing on the revelation to imply something was amiss.
“Wow,” Trump wrote on Twitter, attaching an NBC News reporter’s summary of the news. “Unbelievable.”
Jason Miller, a senior communications adviser to the Trump campaign, said in a statement: “Today’s report that Clinton’s campaign was in communication with the Obama Department of Justice on the email investigation shows a level of collusion which calls into question the entire investigation into her private server. The Department of Justice must release all communications with the Clinton campaign and her allies as soon as possible in order to definitively prove their investigation was completely above board.”
In context, though, the exchange might not be quite as bad as the Trump campaign is seeking to make it sound.
The emails show that Fallon, on May 19, 2015, wrote to other Clinton aides, “DOJ folks inform me there is a status hearing in this case this morning, so we could have a window into the judge’s thinking about this proposed production schedule as quickly as today.” Fallon used to lead the Department of Justice’s public affairs office.
Fallon did not respond to an email asking who the officials were that he corresponded with, or why they told him about the hearing. The message, though, clearly refers to the civil litigation surrounding a Freedom of Information Act request for Clinton’s email, rather than the criminal investigation into her use of a private server while secretary of state. The FBI did not open that probe until July 10, 2015 — a little less than two months after Fallon’s email — based on a July 6 referral from the Intelligence Community Inspector General.
The date of the status hearing also was listed on the court’s public docket. Telling someone its date would not necessarily be problematic, if that was the extent of Fallon’s conversations with Justice Department officials. Someone also seemed to alert Fallon to a filing, according to the WikiLeaks emails, though it was not clear who did that or if the person was employed by the Justice Department. The filing also would presumably be a public record.
Kevin Lewis, the acting head of public affairs for the Justice Department, declined to comment for this article. Marc Raimondi, the Justice Department’s spokesman for the National Security Division, which led the criminal investigation, said of Fallon, “I’ve personally not spoken to him since he left as director here last year and I am not aware of anyone who has.” Raimondi referred questions on the civil case to different Justice Department spokespeople.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest declined to comment on the WikiLeaks release, which he referred to as the “stolen emails of a private citizen,” but he said the Obama administration had not interfered in the Justice Department’s investigation of Clinton.
“Both the attorney general and the FBI director have made clear that the investigation of Secretary Clinton’s private email server was conducted without regard to partisan politics,” Earnest said.
The Justice Department ultimately closed without charges its criminal probe into whether Clinton mishandled classified information by using her private email server. The civil litigation over Freedom of Information Act requests is ongoing.