Top Hillary Clinton aides Cheryl D. Mills and Huma C. Abedin have agreed to appear for depositions in a civil public records lawsuit about Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.
The agreements, court records show, came in a case brought by Judicial Watch, a conservative group that also asked a federal judge this week for permission to depose Clinton in a second lawsuit regarding whether the State Department intentionally thwarted federal open-records laws by allowing the private Clinton email setup.
In the first case, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of the District ruled May 4 that Judicial Watch could formally question six current and former senior Clinton and department aides in the group’s lawsuit concerning a 2013 public records request for information about Abedin’s employment arrangement
The first top State Department official, Lewis A. Lukens, executive director of Clinton’s executive secretariat from 2008 to 2011, is set to appear Wednesday for sworn testimony before lawyers of Judicial Watch, the group stated in a court filing Tuesday.
In the second case, Judicial Watch on Monday asked senior U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth for permission to depose Clinton in connection with a records request for information about talking points Susan E. Rice used in television appearances she made as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations after the deadly Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
In a statement to reporters, Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon dismissed the request to depose Clinton as a partisan smear campaign.
“Judicial Watch continues to clog the courts with its partisan lawsuits intended only to hurt Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign,” Fallon said. “This suit’s original purpose was to chase bogus allegations about Benghazi talking points, but with that conspiracy theory debunked, it is now being repurposed to continue to attack Hillary Clinton.”
The campaign statement came after Judicial Watch said it had conferred with attorneys for top Clinton aides Mills and Abedin, who agreed to deposition dates in the Abedin matter.
After Lukens, Judicial Watch told the court it issued subpoenas for the May 27 deposition of Mills, who was Clinton’s chief of staff at the State Department, and a June 28 interview with Abedin, Mills’s deputy who now is vice chairman of Clinton’s Democratic presidential campaign.
The group also said it reached agreement with government lawyers for depositions in June of Stephen D. Mull, executive secretary at State from June 2009 to October 2012, and Undersecretary for Management Patrick F. Kennedy.
Bryan Pagliano, a Clinton staff member during her 2008 presidential campaign who helped set up the private email server, did not agree to a date and was issued a subpoena to meet June 6, Judicial Watch President Thomas J. Fitton said.
Beth Wilkinson, an attorney for Mills, declined to comment. Attorneys for Abedin and Pagliano did not respond to requests for comment.
Pagliano invoked his Fifth Amendment rights in September before a House panel investigating Benghazi. He also was granted immunity by the Justice Department as part of a criminal investigation by the FBI into any mishandling of classified information on the server.
“There is a court order we can take this testimony, and we think that’s going to occur with all these witnesses,” Fitton said, although each witness could raise objections with Sullivan.
The scheduled depositions in the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit come amid a quickened pace of appearances by Clinton aides in the FBI’s broader criminal investigation, and as Clinton hopes to secure her party’s presidential nomination at the National Democratic Convention in late July.
On May 8, Clinton told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that she was “more than ready” to speak to investigators and had “encouraged all of my assistants to be very forthcoming.”
The Washington Post reported May 10 that Mills and her attorney briefly left a recent interview after an FBI investigator broached a topic that lawyers for the Justice Department had agreed would be off-limits for a person the government considered a cooperative witness.
FBI Director James B. Comey weighed in on May 11, telling reporters that he would not be rushed by election-year considerations.
In the Judicial Watch case, Sullivan approved a narrowed scope of questioning about the creation and operation of Clinton’s email system for official State Department business, and about the department’s handling of Freedom of Information Act requests that could involve Clinton’s and Abedin’s emails.
For six months in 2012, Abedin was employed simultaneously by the State Department, the Clinton Foundation, Clinton’s personal office and a private consulting firm connected to the Clintons.
The State Department initially closed Judicial Watch’s FOIA request and dozens of others before the existence of the Clinton server was disclosed in March 2015. Subsequently, the government has argued that it did not have to search Clinton’s server for records in the Abedin case because it did not possess or control the server at the time.
Sullivan rejected that argument, saying the server arrangement allowed Clinton and other former employees to decide after the fact what government records to disclose, apparently without ensuring that State records were secured within the department’s systems.
Sullivan did not permit questioning of Clinton for now in the Abedin matter, but said Judicial Watch may ask to do so later “based on information learned during discovery.”
In the Benghazi public records lawsuit, Judicial Watch seeks to depose Clinton and also requested to interview Mills, Clinton senior adviser Jacob Sullivan, special assistant Lauren Jiloty, staff member Monica Hanley, and Clarence Finney, now Lukens’s deputy.
Lamberth gave the government until May 27 to respond to the deposition proposal.
In an interview, Fitton said it should come as “no surprise” that Clinton’s testimony would be requested about the search for records related to Benghazi talking points, saying, “The courts have questions, and Mrs. Clinton is positioned as well as anyone to answer those questions.”