The slow-drip release of e-mails from Hillary Clinton's time as secretary of state may drag on beyond the first term of the next president, according to a timetable presented in court Monday by a Justice Department lawyer.
It may take five years for the State Department and other government agencies to vet, redact and release the remaining messages recovered from Clinton's private e-mail server as well as those found more recently on a laptop used by a top aide, based on the pace proposed by Justice Department lawyer Lisa Olson.
"I'm not satisfied with saying, 'go ahead, take five years and do this,' " responded U.S. District Judge James Boasberg, who's presiding over a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the conservative government watchdog Judicial Watch.
"More slow-walking," Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton told reporters after the hearing, saying that an honest agency wouldn't move so slowly.
The exchanges underscored that wrangling over Clinton's use of a private e-mail server will continue regardless of whether she or Donald Trump wins the presidency in Tuesday's election. FBI Director James Comey informed Congress on Sunday that a review of e-mails found on the laptop used by Clinton aide Huma Abedin and her estranged husband Anthony Weiner didn't change his earlier finding that the handling of classified information by Clinton and her aides was "extremely careless" but didn't warrant prosecution.
State Department officials are looking over tens of thousands of messages recovered by the FBI from decommissioned computer servers that housed the private e-mail system Clinton relied on while working as secretary of state. Nearly 15,000 were contained on the first of seven disks of data the FBI gleaned from those devices, of which about 5,600 were deemed work-related.
But that leaves thousands of additional documents on two more disks, Olson, the Justice department lawyer, told the judge on Monday.
"We don't know how many of those are actually responsive" to the Judicial Watch request, she said. Some may be duplicates of correspondence already reviewed while others may be personal correspondence.
The U.S. been processing the so-called Disk 1 documents at a rate of about 2,350 per month, in conjunction with an agreed production schedule in a separate but overlapping FOIA case, enabling State Department reviewers to augment the 500-page-per-month pace of the case before Boasberg.
Olson proposed to stay on the 500-page-per-month pace for the remainder of the document review and production, drawing skepticism from Boasberg and an understated rebuke from Judicial Watch attorney Chris Fedeli.
"We would like to see that go a little bit faster," said Fedeli. Judicial Watch is also seeking the messages recovered from the computer used by Weiner. The FBI discovered those e-mails during a separate investigation of allegations that Weiner sent lewd text messages to a 15-year-old North Carolina girl.
While Olson told the judge that the FBI has a standing request to send recovered documents to the State Department, she said "we don't know anything about" those recovered from Weiner's laptop.
Boasberg ordered the parties to return to court on Nov. 29 to discuss the status of the Weiner computer messages. He set an additional conference for March to assess the pace of processing the correspondence recovered by the FBI.