On Friday, things began heating up again in the legal proceedings regarding Hillary Clinton’s emails. Readers will recall the Judge Emmet Sullivan, a federal district court judge in Washington, D.C., had ordered the State Department to ask Clinton, her former Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills, and her former Deputy Chief of Staff Huma Abedin to personally vouch that they’d turned over all records responsive to a Freedom of Information Act request that Judicial Watch filed seeking information on Abedin’s employment arrangements.
On Friday, as reported by Politico, Clinton submitted her formal certification, under penalty of perjury. She said she directed that all potential federal records in her private email account be turned over to her former agency. However, the process of turning over the documents was left to her attorneys, so Hillary did not personally certify that the handover was complete.
Meanwhile, Mills and Abedin failed to execute a certification. Instead, lawyers for both submitted letters to the court explaining their clients’ positions.
Mills’ lawyers told the court that she has submitted some work-related materials to the State Department and will turn over the rest on Monday (tomorrow). However, they added:
Ms. Mills does not believe that she has paper copies of potential federal records in her possession. Following our production on August 10, 2015, we have instructed her to delete any and all electronic copies in her possession.
Given that the documents Ms. Mills produced and will produce to the State Department are the subject of inquiries, Paul, Weiss will maintain an electronic version of the Mills production at our office until we receive additional instructions from you regarding this material. In the event that you request, due to concerns over potential reclassification, that we delete the copy maintained by Paul, Weiss, we ask that you expeditiously inform us and arrange access to those documents for Ms. Mills and her counsel as you offered in your letter.
Abedin’s lawyers said that she has produced some work-related documents and will produce the rest by August 28.
The Mills and Abedin emails are crucial. For one thing, they would provide a method of cross-checking the completeness of Hillary Clinton’s document production. Recall that it was through Sidney Blumenthal’s email cache that we learned Clinton had not turned over certain documents.
In addition, Clinton was wary of email. Skeletons, if they exist, are more likely to be found in the writings of Mills and Abedin than in anything Hillary committed to “paper.”
Judicial Watch responded to the statement that Mills’ lawyers have instructed her to destroy documents by asking Judge Sullivan to intervene. Sullivan responded by directing the government to ask Mills and Abedin not to destroy documents:
The Court hereby directs the Government to request that Mrs. Hillary Clinton, Ms. Huma Abedin, and Ms. Cheryl Mills i) not delete any federal documents, electronic or otherwise, in their possession or control, and ii) provide appropriate assurances to the Government that the above-named individuals will not delete any such documents. The Government shall inform the Court of the status of its compliance with this Order no later than August 12, 2015, including a copy of any assurances provided by Mrs. Clinton, Ms. Abedin and Ms. Mills that they will not delete any federal documents in their possession or control.
(Presumably, Judge Sullivan is directing the government, as opposed to Mills and Abedin, because it is a party before him and they are not, nor are they now employees of the government.)
What to make of all this? First, Mills and Abedin have refused to certify anything despite being requested to by the government at the direction of a federal judge. They could have executed a certification that hedged a little, like Hillary Clinton’s. But they they didn’t. This calls into doubt anything their lawyers say, including claims that they will produce everything required of them.
Second, the law firm’s desire to destroy documents is premised on the fact that they may be “reclassified,” i.e., deemed to contain classified information. It’s legitimate for a law firm not to want to be in possession of classified material.
This highlights how improper it was to be emailing on a private server. Sensitive, confidential material, and material worthy of being deemed classified, was bound to be transmitted. It also highlights the problem of Mills (and Clinton) turning the documents over to private lawyers rather than to the State Department in the first place.
Third, Judge Sullivan seems to have gotten the attention Mills and her lawyers. An astute correspondent with vast experience as a prosecutor observes that ordinarily if you want to destroy documents, you just do it. You don’t announce your attention in advance.
Mills’ legal team seems to understand that there are limits to what this judge will tolerate.
Finally, Mills may also be constrained by the needs of the Queen she serves. Unlike Clinton, Mills isn’t running for office. This probably explains why Hillary executed a certification and Mills did not.
But if Mills or her attorneys were to destroy documents, this would reinforce suspicions that Clinton has plenty to hide. These suspicions would grow if the destruction incurred the wrath of a federal judge. Hence, the caution with which Mills is proceeding.
As we’ve been saying, stay tuned.