NEW YORK (REUTERS) - A US judge on Tuesday (Dec 13) directed federal prosecutors to show him the search warrant application used to enable the FBI to access e-mails related to Mrs Hillary Clinton's private server that were discovered shortly before the Nov 8 presidential election.
US District Judge Kevin Castel in Manhattan ordered prosecutors by Thursday to turn over the application, which investigators obtained shortly after FBI director James Comey informed Congress of newly discovered e-mails on Oct 28, 11 days before the election won by her Republican opponent Donald Trump.
Judge Castel made the order as he considered whether any portion of the search warrant materials could be made public in response to a lawsuit filed by Mr Randol Schoenberg, a Los Angeles-based lawyer who specialises in cases to recover artwork stolen by the Nazis, seeking to force the release of the documents.
In court papers, Mr Schoenberg said the public had a "strong interest" in the disclosure of the search warrant materials, saying transparency was "crucial" given the potential influence the probe had on the election's outcome.
The search warrant was obtained after Mr Comey issued a letter to top US lawmakers disclosing that e-mails potentially related to the Clinton server probe had been discovered in an "unrelated case".
Mr Comey's Oct 28 announcement roiled the campaign and drew new attention to a damaging issue for Mrs Clinton.
Mrs Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, used the server while she was secretary of state from 2009 to 2013. Mr Comey in July had recommended to the Justice Department that no criminal charges be brought against Mrs Clinton over her handing of classified information in the e-mails.
Only two days before the election, Mr Comey disclosed that the newly reviewed e-mails did nothing to change his earlier recommendation after all.
Days after her loss, Mrs Clinton blamed Mr Comey's letter, so close to the election, as a reason she lost to Mr Trump.
Sources close to the investigation have said the e-mails were discovered during an unrelated probe into former Democratic US congressman Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
In court, Mr Castel said he would not be surprised if prosecutors, in submitting the materials to him, cited the presence of an ongoing probe in a case unrelated to Mrs Clinton as a reason to keep the search warrant application confidential.
"It could be potentially terribly unfair to a person who ultimately winds up not being charged," Mr Castel said, apparently referring to Mr Weiner.
Mr Castel said it was possible information unrelated to the Clinton e-mail probe could be redacted, and noted that in Mrs Clinton's case, Mr Comey later indicated in a subsequent letter that the server probe was closed.
Mr Castel invited prosecutors to propose redactions in case he decides to release the search warrant application.