Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth agreed to the conservative Judicial Watch’s request to depose multiple individuals about the State Department’s response to the deadly 2012 terror attack in Benghazi, Libya, and whether the former secretary of state sought to evade the Freedom of Information Act with her private email server.
However, due to the partial government shutdown, Lamberth agreed to put the inquiry on hold while Justice and State Department employees are furloughed, impacting their ability to comply with the request.
“To respond to Plaintiff’s interrogatories and document requests (including one that will require searches of State’s email records for 24 officials or former officials) will require not only members of the Department of Justice’s litigation team, all of whom are currently furloughed, but also State attorneys and employees from various bureaus and components who are likewise furloughed,” Justice Department lawyers wrote, according to Politico. “The Government will require an even broader array of State employees – most of whom are currently furloughed – to prepare for the numerous depositions described in the Discovery Order.”
According to Politico, the Justice Department is unable to assist with the case due to the shutdown, but State Department officials are able to gather records – for now.
“During the time the Department of State has funds available to cover its direct-hire employees, State Department personnel will, to the extent possible without the advice and direction of Justice Department attorneys, take steps to make what progress they can in preparing responses to the discovery requests that Plaintiff has already served,” the Justice Department said.
Lamberth previously agreed to have former national security adviser Susan Rice and former deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes respond to written questions. Other officials deposed include: Jacob Sullivan, Clinton’s former senior adviser and chief of staff; Justin Cooper, a longtime aide to former President Bill Clinton who helped set up his wife’s private email server; and Bill Priestap, the former assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division who supervised the bureau’s investigation into Clinton’s email server.
In his 16-page order, Lamberth contended, “Rice’s talking points and State’s understanding of the attack play an unavoidably central role in this case.”
Judicial Watch initially said the discovery period would conclude within 120 days. A post-discovery hearing would then be held to determine whether additional witnesses, such as Clinton and her former chief of staff Cheryl Mills, could be deposed.
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton heralded the judge’s decision earlier this week, calling it a “major victory for accountability.”
The judge’s order amounts to approval of a discovery plan he ordered last month. In that ruling, Lamberth wrote that Clinton’s use of a private email server was “one of the gravest modern offenses to government transparency” and said the response of the State and Justice Departments “smack of outrageous misconduct.”
The government partially shuttered on Dec. 22 and has become the longest in history. It affects about one-quarter of the government, including nine Cabinet-level departments. It has culminated in some 800,000 federal employees off the job or working without pay.
Fox News' Samuel Chamberlain contributed to this report.