WASHINGTON – Hillary Rodham Clinton’s State Department emails must be made public on a rolling basis instead of waiting for a mass release in January, a federal judge ruled, rejecting a government proposal for releasing about 55,000 pages of the correspondence early next year.
U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras also ordered the State Department to update the status of document production every 60 days and to propose a deadline for making public any of Clinton’s emails related to the deadly 2012 attack on a U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.
Clinton, who announced her bid for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination last month, is facing scrutiny for exclusively using a private email account while secretary of state. Campaigning in Iowa Tuesday, she said she wants the emails released as soon as possible but put the onus on the State Department.
“They’re not mine,” she said. “They belong to the State Department.”
The emails, handled on her private server and provided to the agency in December by Clinton, must undergo an internal review before they can be released, the State Department said in a federal court filing on Monday in response to a public-records request by Vice News reporter Jason Leopold.
The agency had asked the court to set a proposed completion date of Jan. 15, 2016. Instead, Contreras, in an order posted on the case docket, called for “a new production schedule for the Secretary Clinton e-mails that accounts for rolling production.”
The State Department said it will comply with the ruling, though a spokesman cautioned that the release of 30,000 emails totaling 55,000 pages of documents will require coordination with other agencies.
“We will come up with a schedule for rolling production,” State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters at a briefing in Washington on Tuesday.
The judge, an appointee of President Barack Obama, gave the State Department until May 26 to come up with a plan.
The legal battle over the State Department’s proposed time frame for releasing the emails doesn’t directly involve a Republican-led House committee investigating the Benghazi attacks, which killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador.
The State Department says it has already responded to the panel’s request, having submitted in February 296 emails deemed relevant to its investigation. That correspondence was chosen after the committee’s requests for Benghazi-related material were given a priority review, according to the agency.
All the material that can be publicly released from that initial batch of 296 emails is expected to be posted as early as this week on the State Department website.
Committee spokesman Jamal Ware said Tuesday that the Republican-led House panel “is focused on Benghazi” and “always has been.”
“Because the public, the media and other committees of Congress have additional inquiries, any additional e-mails or records that come out as a result of the committee’s efforts are an added public benefit,” Ware said in an email.
While the committee itself didn’t request all 30,000 emails, the panel’s chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, and other Republicans have made a point that this entire collection was self-selected by Clinton.
Clinton has said through her lawyer that yet another 31,000 mails on her private server that she deemed personal in nature were deleted.
Leopold’s case is among a flurry of suits seeking access to all or part of Clinton’s State Department email through the federal Freedom of Information Act.
Other cases have been filed by the conservative advocacy group Judicial Watch, as well as by the Associated Press and Gawker, the media and pop culture website.
The case is Leopold v. Department of State, 15-cv-123, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).