At one point Sullivan, who was appointed to the bench by former President Bill Clinton, flatly stated that the questions would have been avoided if Hillary Clinton “had followed government policy” regarding e-mail.
Clinton, a Democratic candidate for president, has said her exclusive use of a private e-mail account and server during her four years as secretary of state was permitted by government regulations. She has turned over 30,000 e-mails to the State Department, indicating those documents include all those she sent or received that might include public business. But she has also indicated that she chose not to keep 31,000 more e-mails from those years, deeming them entirely personal in nature.
At issue for Sullivan is whether the State Department has done enough to comply with public records laws by searching only those e-mails Clinton has already turned over to the agency.
The judge's questions came in connection with a lawsuit filed by the conservative group Judicial Watch, which has sought all records related to the employment status of a key Clinton aide, including those found among Clinton’s own correspondence.
Sullivan’s inquiries demonstrate how the e-mail issue has now moved beyond Clinton’s control, as several lawsuits over records and a number of investigations produce new revelations about how she managed her records. As the parallel inquiries progress, Clinton will likely continue to be dogged by questions about the e-mails and her server on the presidential campaign trail.
Clinton’s lawyer, David Kendall, has told congressional committees that none of Clinton’s e-mails from her time as secretary of state remain on the server. However, Clinton herself told reporters earlier this week that she did not know if the server had been "wiped." And a spokesman for Platte River Networks, the company that took possession of Clinton’s server in 2013 and turned it over the FBI last week, has said he has no information that the server was wiped.
A Department of Justice lawyer acting on behalf of the State Department repeatedly told Sullivan that it was not necessary for State to look for documents on the server, given that Clinton has submitted a declaration under oath that she has already provided all her e-mails that involved public business. But Peter Wechsler ultimately conceded that the department could reach out to the FBI to determine what its analysis is finding on the server.
Sullivan suggested that he might be open to additional steps in the future, including a possible third party forensic analysis of the server and ordering Clinton to reveal whether back-ups or other copies of the data exist.
For now, he asked the State Department to provide an update on its progress in 30 days.
Earlier Thursday, State Department officials met with the staff of Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Ia.), to discuss the Judiciary Committee chairman’s longstanding requests for documents related to the private e-mail account used by the secretary and her close aide, Huma Abedin.
Grassley has been seeking information – including e-mail correspondence -- about the special status Abedin was granted in 2012 allowing her to work for the State Department and private sector employers simultaneously, the same topic that is the subject of the Judicial Watch suit.
The meeting Thursday was cordial but, a Grassley aide said afterward that the office “is still waiting” for answers to “questions from as far back as 2013.”