WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Friday ordered Hillary Clinton to provide written testimony under oath about why she set up a private computer server to send and receive emails while secretary of state, ensuring that the issue will continue to dog her presidential campaign until the eve of the election.
In a brief ruling issued Friday afternoon, Judge Emmet Sullivan of U.S. District Court in Washington approved a motion by the conservative advocacy organization Judicial Watch to pursue its vigorous campaign to expose Clinton's use of the private server. In addition to requiring her testimony in writing, the judge allowed the group to depose a senior State Department aide who had warned two subordinates not to question her email practices.
Only six weeks ago, FBI director James Comey declined to recommend prosecuting Clinton, saying that while her actions had been careless, they did not amount to a crime. Yet the controversy refuses to dissipate. This week, the bureau turned over to Congress the documents it compiled in the case, including a 31/2-hour interview with Clinton, even as Republicans in Congress pressed their public case for her to be charged with perjury.
Sullivan's ruling opened another front in a fight Clinton's campaign certainly hoped to put behind her. Although he declined to order her to answer questions in person, his ruling underscored the legal complications that Clinton faces even as she enters the homestretch of her campaign.
A spokesman for Clinton's campaign, Brian Fallon, sharply criticized Judicial Watch's legal campaign, saying it was "a right-wing organization that has been attacking the Clintons since the 1990s."
"This is just another lawsuit intended to try to hurt Hillary Clinton's campaign," he said.
Sullivan gave Judicial Watch until Oct. 14 to submit questions to Clinton — 31/2 weeks before Election Day on Nov. 8. Significantly, perhaps, he ordered Clinton to submit her answers within 30 days of that deadline, meaning she could delay her answers until after the election. The deposition of the senior aide, however, will take place by Oct. 31.
The aide, John Bentel, a career foreign service officer who has retired, was one of the officials in the State Department who seemed to be aware of Clinton's use of the server.