WASHINGTON, Feb. 24 (UPI) -- State Department officials and top aides to Hillary Clinton should be questioned under oath regarding her use of private email accounts during her time as secretary of state, a judge has ruled.
The decision to use private servers during Clinton's tenure as secretary of state may have violated Freedom of Information Act laws demanding all work emails be archived in government systems for public view. Sullivan's ruling will perpetuate attention to a scandal the Democratic presidential front-runner would prefer to leave behind.
The judge's ruling came as the result of a lawsuit filed by the conservative legal watchdog organization Judicial Watch. The process will likely involve interviews with Clinton's top staff in which they will be asked how they determined which emails were preserved as an official record and which were discarded.
Sullivan set an April 12 deadline for Judicial Watch and the government lawyers to propose a plan to proceed. The process will likely take months and is expected to be a factor in the 2016 presidential election campaign.
Clinton herself could be subpoenaed to testify, Sullivan said.
"There has been a constant drip, drip, drip of declarations. When does it stop? This case is about the public's right to know," the judge said.
He added he could also direct the State Department to subpoena Clinton, top Clinton aide Huma Abedin or others to return all of the emails sent and received from Clinton's personal email system. It was a signal that 31,000 emails she said were deleted because of their personal nature could become available for public inspection.
"The ruling is a major victory in terms of moving forward to finding out the full truth about the Clinton email system," Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton told news website Politico. "Our goal is to make sure in the end that all the records that should have been looked at, should have been reviewed, are disclosed to the public as the law requires."
The Clinton campaign was critical of the ruling.
"This is one of several lawsuits filed by the same right-wing group, which will stop at nothing in pursuing the Clintons, just as they have done since the 1990s," Clinton campaign spokesman Mark Merrill said.