Judge: State must release remaining Clinton emails on rolling basis

Story highlights

  • The State Department could release 550 emails this weekend
  • The department had asked for more time to release the emails
  • Weather and a misplacement of documents has delayed the release

(CNN)A federal judge has ordered the State Department to release Hillary Clinton's remaining work-related emails in four installments over the next three weeks.

The order by Judge Rudolph Contreras comes just hours after the State Department proposed releasing the emails in two batches -- one on February 13th and another on February 29th.
Contreras accepted those release dates, but insisted the agency also produce emails by close of business on February 19th and 26th, adding the State Department should "promptly bring any unanticipated problems to the court's attention."
    The State Department had offered to release 550 of Clinton's emails this weekend, out of the approximately 3,700 that remain, after Contreras admonished them for continued delays.
    The State Department also provided the court with a declaration from an official overseeing the release process, in which they detailed the steps involved in reviewing the emails. The process they laid out seems to have provided the basis for the judge's new time line.
    Contreras, who ordered the State Department to release Clinton's emails in monthly installments last spring as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, warned the agency at a hearing on Tuesday that it should be prepared to speed up production, but has yet to approve this latest time line.
    Contreras said he felt he was being forced to choose between accepting the State Department's proposed time line without question, or else risk the accidental release of sensitive information by hurrying the process.

    Error caused delays

    Clinton has weathered a year of political fire for setting up a personal email server at her home in Chappaqua, New York, to conduct business as secretary of state. That allowed her to place her official state communication outside government purview and under her complete control. Critics claim this put national secrets at risk.
    The State Department was supposed to have released all of Clinton's official emails on January 29th, but asked for a one month extension to compensate for a mysterious misplacement of documents, which the State Department was supposed to send over to other government agencies for further review, but were somehow waylaid.
    That error, State argued, compounded by a weather-related government closure, meant it wouldn't be able to get the final batch of emails out by the original deadline.
    Contreras has also asked the State Department to explain the circumstances behind that error.
    At Tuesday's hearing, an attorney representing the State Department said it would be impossible to release any of the documents before February 18, but in its latest filing Wednesday evening, an official overseeing the review said "changed circumstances" would allow them to make a release on February 13.

    Lawyer: Delay is unreasonable

    Lawyers for journalist Jason Leopold, who is suing the State Department over the emails, argued the delay was unreasonable and would "cause grave, incurable harm" to voters in early presidential primary states who are deciding whether to vote for Clinton without being "as fully informed as they would otherwise."
    The State Department has released about 85% of Clinton's official emails to date, but many of the most sensitive emails -- those that require additional review by the intelligence community and other government agencies -- are expected to be in the remaining tranche.
    The proposed production schedule would result in all the remaining emails being released the day before "Super Tuesday" and after early contests in New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
    The State Department would also be willing to provide paper copies of the emails to Leopold on the 12th, the official said.
    The Department announced last month that it will not release 22 emails from former the Secretary of State because they contain "top secret" information, the highest level of government classification.
    A department spokesman said the documents, totaling 37 pages, were not marked classified at the time they were sent, but are being upgraded at the request of the Intelligence Community because they contain sensitive information.