October 22, 2019

Suit brought by Holocaust claims lawyer unearths Clinton emails warrant

A federal judge in New York unsealed a search warrant on Dec. 20 that the FBI used to re-open the Hillary Clinton emails case just days before the election.

Though names are redacted, the warrant appears to confirm what has already been reported in the press: That while searching a laptop belonging to Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s estranged husband, former Congressman Anthony Weiner, agents determined the computer contained data related to Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state.

The release of the warrant comes in response to a lawsuit brought by E. Randol Schoenberg, a prominent Holocaust claims lawyer in Los Angeles. Speaking shortly after the warrant was unsealed, Schoenberg greeted the news with outrage.

“I don’t see how anyone in their right mind could find probable cause from this affidavit,” he told the Journal. “There’s no indication that there would be anything new on this laptop, no indication that there would be anything different from what they’ve seen — which they’d already determined did not give rise to a crime.”

[Click here to read the search warrant]

Schoenberg decided to pursue the lawsuit because he thought the FBI hadn’t been adequately transparent during its investigation of the Democratic presidential candidate. In a Nov. 16 Jewish Journal op-ed, he suggested FBI Director James Comey’s handling of the case might have swung the election against her.

Schoenberg’s suit came largely as a layman’s effort: Though a well-known art restitution attorney, he admits that he is no specialist in search-and-seizure or national security law.

Instead, the 50-year-old attorney gained international prominence by reclaiming Jewish-owned art looted by the Nazis. His breakthrough case came in 2006, when he managed to reclaim a Gustav Klimt painting stolen from a Jewish family in Vienna 68 years earlier. The case won him both acclaim and fortune, and was made famous by the 2015 film, “Woman in Gold.”  A former president of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, Schoenberg donated the funds for a new building and was the leader in its revitalization.

He decided to seek the search warrant after reading about it in an Oct. 30 New York Times article.  Beyond the Times story, he’d seen nothing reported about the FBI’s justification for the warrant. So he decided to take matters into his own hands, and hired David B. Rankin, a government transparency lawyer in New York, to pursue the case.

“I just decided I was interested in this and nobody else was doing it and I have the ability to do it,” he told the Journal in a Dec. 14 interview. “So why not? Somebody had to do it.”

On Dec. 9, he filed suit against the clerk at the U.S. District Court of Southern New York, assuming, correctly, that the search warrant would be on file there since Weiner lives in New York. At a Dec. 13 hearing, district court Judge P. Kevin Castel ordered Justice Department lawyers to deliver the search warrant and related documents to his chambers by Dec. 15.

Then, in a Dec. 19 memorandum, the judge announced that the Justice Department had withdrawn their opposition to releasing the documents, and he released a redacted version the following day.

In the memo, Castel said he would accept the Justice Department’s suggested redactions and add some of his own. The redactions, he said, seek to protect the identity of two individuals, one of whom is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation and neither of whom have been charged with a crime. Additional redactions remove the names of law enforcement officials.

In November, Schoenberg tried to obtain the warrant through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, and later sued the FBI when it did not immediately comply. But as the other lawsuit progressed, the FOIA suit fell by the wayside.

Now, he’s ready to pass along the torch.

“I don’t think I need to do anything more,” he said. “I hope that people will follow up. I think this is really bad what happened here. It’s what I suspected: There was nothing.”

“There’s still more to investigate, right?” he added. “We don’t know the name of the FBI officials. They know that this isn’t probable cause. This is what they do every day. So they knew this wasn’t right and they did it anyway, and I think that’s something that people are going to have to investigate.”