Justice Dept. affirms Clinton could delete personal emails

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Hillary Clinton Had Right to Delete Emails

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had the right to delete personal emails from her private server, the Justice Department told a federal court.

Lawyers for the government made the assertion in a filing this week with the U.S. District Court in Washington, part of a public records lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group that seeks access to Clinton's emails.

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Clinton, the former secretary of state and front-runner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, has been dogged by questions about her use of a private email account for government business.

She has said that she sent and received about 60,000 emails during her four years in the Obama administration, about half of which were personal and deleted. The others were turned over to the State Department.

The FBI has been investigating the security of Clinton's email setup, which she said she used as a matter of convenience. She has since acknowledged that her use of a private email server to conduct government business was a mistake and apologized this week.

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Justice Dept. affirms Clinton could delete personal emails
FILE - In this Jan. 7, 2016 file photo, Democratic presidential hopeful former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks in San Gabriel, Calif. The State Department released Friday another 3,000 pages of emails from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's private email account, missing a court-ordered goal for their production by a week. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)
Representative Susan Brooks, a Republican from Indiana, questions Hillary Clinton, former U.S. secretary of state and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, not pictured, during a House Select Committee on Benghazi hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015. Under scrutiny for her handling of the Benghazi attacks and her use of a private e-mail server, Clinton plans to invoke the memory of slain U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens to defend her approach to diplomacy, saying they shared a common belief in the need for America to lead. Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images
In this photo taken Aug. 27, 2015, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks in Cleveland. The State Department is expected to release roughly 7,000 pages of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's emails later Monday, including about 150 that have been censored because they contain information that has now been deemed classified. (AP Photo/David Richard)
This portion of an email from Hillary Rodham Clinton's private email account when she was secretary of state and released by the State Department on Sept. 30, 2015, shows an email Clinton received early in the morning on Aug. 3, 2011. The newly released emails show Russia-linked hackers tried at least five times to pry into Clinton's private email account while she was secretary of state. It is unclear if she clicked on any attachment and exposed her account. Clinton received the infected emails, disguised as speeding tickets, over four hours early the morning of Aug. 3, 2011. The emails instructed recipients to print the attached tickets, which would have allowed hackers to take control of their computers. Security researchers who analyzed the malicious software have said that infected computers would transmit information from victims to at least three server computers overseas, including one in Russia. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)
FILE - In this Aug. 15, 2015 file photo, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa. The State Department review of Clinton's emails so far has found as many as 305 messages that could contain classified information and require further review by federal agencies, the department said Monday. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 11, 2015 file photo, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton listens as she meets with voters during a campaign stop at River Valley Community College in Claremont, N.H. Clinton has relented to months of demands that she relinquish the personal email server she used while secretary of state, directing the device be given to the Justice Department. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks before the National Urban League, Friday, July 31, 2015, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
FILE - In this July 7, 2015, file photo, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during a campaign stop at the Iowa City Public Library in Iowa City, Iowa. A special House committee on the 2012 Benghazi attacks has devolved from an investigation into the deaths of four Americans in Libya into a political fight over Clinton’s emails and private computer servers, in a battle that is likely to stretch into the 2016 presidential election year. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks, Friday, July 24, 2015, at the New York University Leonard N. Stern School of Business in New York. Federal investigators have alerted the Justice Department to a "potential compromise of classified information" arising from the private email server used by Clinton in her home, a department official said Friday. Clinton commented briefly on the issue saying, "We are all accountable to the American people to get the facts right, and I will do my part but I'm also going to stay focused on the issues." (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at an event at the New York University Leonard N. Stern School of Business in New York on July 24, 2015. The Justice Department said it had received a request to probe whether Hillary Clinton mishandled sensitive government information by using her private email for State Department business. 'The Department has received a referral related to the potential compromise of classified information,' a department official said in a brief statement that confirmed in part a story that first appeared in The New York Times. AFP PHOTO/ KENA BETANCUR (Photo credit should read KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)
FILE - In this April 29, 2015, file photo, Huma Abedin, attends the David N. Dinkins Leadership and Public Policy Forum in New York. U.S. District Judge Richard Leon has given the State Department a few months to provide The Associated Press with thousands of documents it sought in a federal lawsuit. The Aug. 7, order means the documents, including schedules and calendars from former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will be released months ahead of the spring presidential primary elections. Leon ordered the department to produce within 30 days records related to Abedin, a former top Clinton aide, during her time as secretary of state. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
NEW YORK - MARCH 10: Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to the media after keynoting a Women's Empowerment Event at the United Nations March 10, 2015 in New York City. Clinton answered questions about recent allegations of an improperly used email account during her tenure as secretary of state. (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)
Hillary Clinton answers questions from reporters March 10, 2015 at the United Nations in New York. Clinton admitted Tuesday that she made a mistake in choosing for convenience not to use an official email account when she was secretary of state. But, in remarks to reporters after attending a United Nations event, she insisted that her email set-up had been properly secure and that she had turned over all professional communications to the State Department. AFP PHOTO/DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - MARCH 10: Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to the media after keynoting a Women's Empowerment Event at the United Nations March 10, 2015 in New York City. Clinton answered questions about recent allegations of an improperly used email account during her tenure as secretary of state. (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - MARCH 10: Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to the media after keynoting a Women's Empowerment Event at the United Nations March 10, 2015 in New York City. Clinton answered questions about recent allegations of an improperly used email account during her tenure as secretary of state. (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - MARCH 10: Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to the media after keynoting a Women's Empowerment Event at the United Nations March 10, 2015 in New York City. Clinton answered questions about recent allegations of an improperly used email account during her tenure as secretary of state. (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - MARCH 10: Huma Abedin (R), aide to former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, looks on during a news conference following Clinton's keynote speech at a Women's Empowerment Event at the United Nations. Clinton answered questions about recent allegations of an improperly used email account during her tenure as secretary of state. (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 03: Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and other members of the House Select Committee on Benghazi speak to reporters at a press conference on the findings of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's personal emails at the U.S. Capitol on March 3, 2015 in Washington, D.C. The New York Times reported that Clinton may have violated the law by using a personal email account for official business at the State Department. (Photo by Gabriella Demczuk/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 03: Peter Roskam (R-IL), Susan Brooks (R-IN) and Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) of the House Select Committee on Benghazi speak to reporters at a press conference on the findings of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's personal emails at the U.S. Capitol on March 3, 2015 in Washington, D.C. The New York Times reported that Clinton may have violated the law by using a personal email account for official business at the State Department. (Photo by Gabriella Demczuk/Getty Images)
Hillary Clinton answers questions from reporters March 10, 2015 at the United Nations in New York. Clinton admitted Tuesday that she made a mistake in choosing for convenience not to use an official email account when she was secretary of state. But, in remarks to reporters after attending a United Nations event, she insisted that her email set-up had been properly secure and that she had turned over all professional communications to the State Department. AFP PHOTO/DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 03: Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) of the House Select Committee on Benghazi speaks to reporters at a press conference on the findings of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's personal emails at the U.S. Capitol on March 3, 2015 in Washington, D.C. The New York Times reported that Clinton may have violated the law by using a personal email account for official business at the State Department. (Photo by Gabriella Demczuk/Getty Images)
FILE - In this Jan. 23, 2013 file photo, then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, on the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Congressional aides say the special House committee investigating the 2012 attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, will issue subpoenas for Clinton's personal emails. The aides say that possible as early as Wednesday, the committee will seek the additional material from the potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidate. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
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Clinton asserts that she had the right under government rules to decide which emails were private and to delete them. This week's filing puts the Justice Department's approval on Clinton's claim.

"There is no question that former 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," attorneys from the Justice Department's civil division wrote.

Judicial Watch had requested a court order from the judge to ensure that Clinton's emails were being preserved. But the Justice Department said there was no need for such an order given that Clinton had the right to delete personal emails and that those messages are not subject to the public records law.

The government said Judicial Watch had presented no evidence to suggest Clinton had mistakenly or intentionally deleted government records instead of personal emails, and said "government agencies are not required to take steps to recover deleted material based on unfounded speculation that responsive information had been deleted."

The Justice Department brief argues that "there is no legal basis in the (Freedom of Information Act) for requesters to obtain employees' personal records and, therefore, there is no legal basis for the court to order the State Department to preserve, or to take steps to preserve, the personal records of the former secretary or any other current or former federal employee."

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