U.S. Justice Department lawyers told a federal court Wednesday that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of a private email account was not against the law, nor was it illegal for her to unilaterally determine which messages were considered work-related and necessary to return to the State Department for record keeping.
"There is no question that Secretary Clinton had authority to delete personal emails without agency supervision - she appropriately could have done so even if she were working on a government server," the administration lawyers argued in what was the strongest legal defense yet of the nation's former top diplomat, according to The Washington Times. "Under policies issued by both the National Archives and Records Administration ('NARA') and the State Department, individual officers and employees are permitted and expected to exercise judgment to determine what constitutes a federal record."
The legal brief said it is up to employees to "review each message, identify its value and either delete it or move it to a record-keeping system."
The lawyers insisted they have no power or obligation to demand that Clinton hand over documents she has not already provided.
During her time at the State Department from 2009 to 2013, Clinton opted to use a private email account and home-based server, which were not equipped to handle classified information, rather than an official government email system.
In December 2014, nearly two years after leaving the State Department, Clinton finally turned over some 30,000 emails from the system that she deemed work-related, and deleted 30,000 more that she said were personal in nature, without independent oversight.
The government watchdog group Judicial Watch, which has at least 16 active lawsuits against the State Department seeking emails from Clinton or her top aides, said the Obama administration is clearly ignoring its internal guidelines in an attempt to clear Clinton of any wrongdoing.
"Indeed, the State Department's own rules specify that personal records of a departing presidential appointee may not be removed from the government until the State Department 'records officer in cooperation with the S/ES or appropriate administrative office' approves of the removal, a process which 'generally requires a hands-on examination of the materials,'" Judicial Watch told the Times.
Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner, was also found to have sent a number of emails containing classified information, which security experts say was most likely stolen by numerous foreign governments. The FBI's top investigators are currently conducting a criminal investigation into that matter, as HNGN previously reported.
The scandal has significantly affected her presidential campaign, with voters largely viewing her as untrustworthy as she continues to lose ground to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
In an interview Tuesday with ABC's "World News Tonight," Clinton took full responsibility for the email situation and for the first time apologized.
"That was a mistake. I'm sorry about that. I take responsibility," she told ABC.