Ex-Hillary Clinton aides and Obama-era officials set to testify about Benghazi, email scandals

March 14, 2019

Ex-Hillary Clinton aides and Obama-era officials set to testify about Benghazi, email scandals JStone / Shutterstock.com

More than two years since the FBI cleared Hillary Clinton of wrongdoing involving her private email server, a federal court-ordered discovery on her misdeeds is just getting underway.

A former aide to Clinton will give a deposition under oath Thursday about Benghazi and Clinton’s homebrew email set-up as part of ongoing litigation initiated by conservative watchdog Judicial Watch.

Several other Clinton staffers and senior Obama administration officials will also testify in response to a lawsuit from the group.

Clinton aides, Obama officials to be deposed

On Wednesday, Judicial Watch announced the deposition schedule for several former Clinton aides and senior Obama administration officials who were ordered to answer questions from the group. The first is Justin Cooper, a former Clinton aide who “had no security clearance” and helped set up Clinton’s private email server. He will testify under oath and in-person on Thursday.

According to the group’s website, Judicial Watch seeks answers to:

Whether Clinton intentionally attempted to evade the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by using a non-government email system;

Whether the State Department’s efforts to settle this case beginning in late 2014 amounted to bad faith; and

Whether the State Department adequately searched for records responsive to Judicial Watch’s FOIA request.

Cooper is the first of several Clinton and Obama officials forced to answer questions, either in person or in writing, after U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth ordered discovery in a 2014 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch.

Eight other former Clinton and Obama officials have also been ordered to give depositions: Jake Sullivan, Clinton’s then-senior adviser and deputy chief of staff; John Hackett, a State Department records official; Sheryl Walter, former State Department Director of the Office of Information Programs and Services/Global Information Services; Gene Smilansky, a State Department lawyer; Monica Tillery, a State Department official;  Jonathon Wasser, a management analyst on the Executive Secretariat staff; Clarence Finney of the Executive Secretariat staff; and Heather Samuelson, a former senior advisor at the State Department.

A deposition for Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security Eric Boswell has yet to be scheduled.

Rice, Rhodes, and others to answer key questions

Several former Obama officials will also answer questions in writing, including national security adviser Susan Rice and deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, who both played a role in the Benghazi cover-up scandal in which the Obama administration blamed a “hateful” anti-Islam video for the attack.

Other Obama officials who will provide written answers include Monica Hanley, Hillary Clinton’s former confidential assistant at the State Department and FBI official E.W. Priestap, who helped oversee that agency’s Clinton email and 2016 presidential campaign investigations.

Rhodes and Rice will reportedly testify about State Department “talking points” on the Benghazi attack. Lamberth rejected objections from the State and Justice Departments to the taking of discovery on the talking points.

“Rice’s talking points and State’s understanding of the attack play an unavoidably central role in this case,” Lamberth wrote in an order, adding, “State’s role in the [talking] points’ content and development could shed light on Clinton’s motives for shielding her emails from [Freedom of Information Act] requesters or on State’s reluctance to search her emails.”

Shedding light on the secret server

Judicial Watch has played a central role in the Clinton email investigation from the beginning. The group’s July 2014 FOIA lawsuit was what led to the discovery of Clinton’s email server in 2015. It was filed after the State Department ignored a previous May 2014 FOIA lawsuit.

Judge Lamberth ordered discovery in December to determine whether Clinton sought to work around FOIA requests using her private email server. Lamberth has described Clinton’s use of a private server to exchange government emails as “one of the gravest modern offenses to government transparency” and previously opined that “career employees in the State and Justice Departments colluded to scuttle public scrutiny of Clinton, skirt FOIA, and hoodwink this Court.”

The watchdog group has been dogged in its pursuit of emails from the State Department and Department of Justice as well as testimony from former Clinton and Obama officials.

“Judicial Watch is doing the heavy lifting on the ongoing Clinton email scandal, even as Congress dropped the ball and DOJ and State continued to obstruct our quest for the truth,” said Tom Fitton, its president. “The Court in our case wants real answers on the Clinton email scandal which is why our request for basic discovery was granted.”

The discovery period will last 120 days, followed by a post-discovery hearing to determine if Judicial Watch may depose additional witnesses, including Clinton and her former Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills.

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Matthew Boose

Matthew Boose is a staff writer for Conservative Institute. He has a Bachelor's degree from Stony Brook University and has contributed to The Daily Caller and The Stony Brook Press.