Judge Handling Clinton Email Case Fumes Over State Department Delays

The department "has put me between a rock and a hard place."
Vice News suggested that Hillary Clinton's email saga might interest voters.
Vice News suggested that Hillary Clinton's email saga might interest voters.

A federal judge on Tuesday grilled a State Department lawyer who had been summoned to explain why his office missed a deadline to produce 7,000 pages of emails in the ongoing controversy over Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server.

U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras said that the federal government "has put me between a rock and a hard place."

Contreras, who sits in Washington, D.C., has been overseeing a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by Vice News about the former secretary of state's emails since last spring. 

"To state the obvious, these documents have a lot of public interest and the timing is important for the reasons stated by the plaintiff," Contreras said, according to NPR.

After it blew a Jan. 29 deadline due to a mix-up over the "interagency consultation" process, the government had asked the court for an extension until Feb. 29 to bring forth the next batch of emails. But Vice News had urged a timelier release, noting the potential interest of primary season voters.

Contreras' public frustration with the State Department drove Zoe Tillman, a National Law Journal reporter who attended Tuesday's hearing, to compile a listicle of the telltale signs when a judge is upset with you. Among other items, she noted that Contreras ordered the State Department to provide "a detailed explanation" for why it couldn't abide by his timeline.

Since last year, tens of thousands of unclassified emails from Clinton's private server have been released in monthly bundles, all by judicial order. The Democratic presidential candidate has maintained that she did not personally send classified emails while at the State Department.

Tuesday's hearing isn't the only development in the ongoing saga.

In a separate freedom-of-information lawsuit over the emails, brought by the conservative group Judicial Watch, a top FBI lawyer acknowledged in a letter that the bureau is "working on matters" regarding Clinton's use of a private email server.

The letter, which was entered in the court file on Monday, was mostly a formality. The FBI declined to reveal "the specific focus, scope or potential targets of any such proceedings." The bureau added that it couldn't say anything more "without adversely affecting on-going law enforcement efforts."

In other words, it's still a mystery what, if anything, will come of the investigation, let alone whether anything that is learned will warrant a full-blown federal prosecution. Stay tuned.