Former national security adviser Susan Rice and former deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes must answer written questions regarding the State Department’s response to the 2012 terror attack in Benghazi, Libya, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
The ruling comes amid the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch’s ongoing legal batter over whether Hillary Clinton deliberately evaded public laws by using a private email server while secretary of state.
Judicial watch requested Rice and Rhodes sit for depositions, however, U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth denied the request. Lamberth, however, agreed to have the Obama administration official answer written questions.
The judge also granted Judicial Watch’s request to depose the State Department about how Rice’s talking points addressing the preparation of the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, during which U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other nationals were killed.
“Rice’s talking points and State’s understanding of the attack play an unavoidably central role in this case,” Lamberth wrote in a 16-page order.
The deposition will also shed light on Judicial Watch’s inquiry into whether the State Department engaged in malfeasance by not telling a court for months that the agency asked Clinton in July 2014 to return missing emails.
“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,” Lamberth added.
Following the attack, Rice made a whirlwind tour on five Sunday news shows insisting an anti-Islamic YouTube video was to blame for the attacks.
Emails obtained in a Freedom of Information Act request by Judicial Watch in 2014, show the then-U.N. ambassador was coached by a key White House aid to lie and ignore the facts known and reported on the ground in Benghazi to make the administration look good.
The goal for Rice, outlined in the email, was “to underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure or policy.”
BREAKING: Federal Court Orders Discovery To Begin on Clinton Email, Benghazi Scandal: Top Obama-Clinton Officials, Susan Rice, and Ben Rhodes to Respond to @JudicialWatch Questions Under Oath https://t.co/kka1QCEWtG pic.twitter.com/ak1xIw2dv3
— Tom Fitton (@TomFitton) January 16, 2019
Lamberth also granted Judicial Watch to subpoena written testimony from Bill, Priestap, former assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, Jacob Sullivan, Clinton’s former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff and Justin Cooper, who helped arrange the setup of Clinton’s private email address and server. Priestap, who retired from government last year, supervised the FBI’s investigation in Clinton’s private email server.
The FBI drafted an exoneration statement for Clinton, months before federal investigators interviewed the former secretary of state as part of the email probe.
The judge’s approval for discovery is “a major victory for accountability,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said, celebrating the ruling.
“In a major victory for accountability, Judge Lamberth today authorized Judicial Watch to take discovery on whether the Clinton email system evaded FOIA and whether the Benghazi scandal was one reason for keeping Mrs. Clinton’s email secret,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “Today, Judicial Watch issued document requests and other discovery to the State Department about the Clinton email scandal. Next up, we will begin questioning key witnesses under oath.”
In December, Lamberth granted Judicial watch discovery in their FOIA lawsuit against the State and Justice departments. During the ruling, the Judge, a Reagan appointee, called Clinton’s illegal misuse of a private email server as secretary of state “one of the gravest modern offenses to government transparency.”
Lamberth slammed both the government’s investigation and the illicit use of the server.
“At best, State’s efforts to pass off its deficient search as legally adequate during settlement negotiations was negligence born out of incompetence,” Lamberth wrote of the department’s review of emails Clinton provided to investigators. “At worst, career employees at the State and Justice departments colluded to scuttle public scrutiny of Clinton, skirt FOIA, and hoodwink this court.”
The discovery period will conclude within 120 days, Judicial Watch noted in a press release, which will be followed by a post-discovery hearing to determine whether additional witnesses, including Clinton and her former Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills, may be deposed.