The U.S. State Department’s announcement that it will finally finish releasing the 55,000-pages of emails from Hillary Clinton’s time as the nation’s top diplomat does away with a cloud that has been hanging over the Democratic frontrunner’s presidential bid for roughly a year.
But they won’t be celebrating in Clintonland tonight because another lawsuit could keep the issue alive well into the fall.
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The State Department is set to release the last roughly 1,500 pages of emails and should wrap up the process on Monday, spokesman Mark Toner told reporters, according to Reuters.
Clinton's use of a private email server to conduct official State Department business has been a drag on her campaign ever since the “homebrew” setup was revealed by the House Select Committee on Benghazi in early 2015.
In the aftermath, the former Secretary of State called on her old agency to publicly release all of her work-related emails and has insisted none of the information she sent or received was marked classified at the time.
State has released several tranches of messages over the last nine months, and while they have made for interesting reading at times – from shedding some light on her actions before and after the deadly Benghazi attacks in 2012 and her dealings inside Obama’s Cabinet to sending out a distress call to staffers to help her find her local NPR station – none of them have been the “smoking gun” showing malfeasance Republicans had hoped for.
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The most controversial aspect of the releases has been over the State Department designating some of the emails as top secret. However, that debate has morphed into more of an inter-agency squabble between Foggy Bottom and the intelligence community about the liberal use of the designation when it comes to classified material.
Make no mistake, even though no “Gotcha!” email has been discovered, the drip, drip, drip of news about her email arrangement has negatively impacted Clinton’s candidacy.
The issue nearly weighed on her last summer, allowing Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), her rival for the nomination, to rise in the polls. It’s also stuck in the psyche of some voters, as evidenced by a recent Gallup national survey that found “dishonest” was the word that came to mind most when people were asked about Clinton.
And while the emails may all be out, the server itself is in Justice Department custody, where officials are trying to see if they can recover any of its data, even though Clinton claims the device has been “wiped clean.”
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Meanwhile, a federal judge ruled this week that Clinton and her top aides should be questioned under oath about her email arrangement, signaling the start of an entirely new legal headache for the now White House contender and her campaign team.
The lawsuit, brought by the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, will pick up again in a few wekks in mid-March when the group files its preliminary plan for the questioning. State has until Apr. 5 to respond, and then Judicial Watch gets 10 days to file a reply.
The legal maneuvering means that Clinton aides could be deposed during the dog days of summer and potentially well into the general election. Another months-long round of questions about her emails could drag her entire campaign down as it did last year and give Sanders another shot at the nomination or hobble her in a contest against the GOP nominee.