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Report: Clinton aides retain same lawyer in email probe

040116 Takala Wilkinson Pic
Cheryl Mills, Philippe Reines and Jake Sullivan were all in frequent contact with Hillary Clinton through her private server during the 2009-13 period that she served as secretary of state. (AP Photo)

Four of Hillary Clinton's former top aides at the State Department have retained the same attorney to represent them in the Justice Department's investigation of Clinton's private server, according to a new report.

The information was contained in a congressional letter dated Feb. 10, but first reported by Politico on Friday. According to the letter and sources familiar with the investigation, the Clinton staffers have retained Beth Wilkinson, a former assistant U.S. attorney at the Justice Department.

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Conflict of interest rules prevent attorneys from retaining clients who could incriminate each other, which means the Clinton team is preparing to either defeat the Justice Department's investigation in unity, or to lose in the same manner.

The aides are Clinton's chief of staff Cheryl Mills, deputy chief Jake Sullivan, Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines and Heather Samuelson, a Mills deputy and long-time Clinton aide. In testimony before the House Benghazi Committee last year, Mills said Samuelson was responsible for sifting through the more than 60,000 emails Clinton stored on her basement server, and deleted more than 30,000 before handing the rest over to the State Department.

Mills, Reines and Sullivan were all in frequent contact with Clinton through her private server during the 2009-13 period that she served as secretary of state. Sullivan authored some of the emails on Clinton's server now deemed "top secret," and Reines has experienced his own email-related issues aside from those of his boss. The State Department maintained for two years that it was unable to find any of the messages Reines sent during his time with Clinton until it was hit with a lawsuit, after which it located more than 80,000.

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Wilkinson established a high profile during her time as an attorney at the Justice Department, having served as a prosecutor in the cases of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega.

"They've hired her because she knows everyone in main Justice," said Joseph diGenova, who worked as a U.S. attorney under the Reagan administration. "She has very good personal relationships with all the political and career people in the Justice Department, so that's very smart on their part."

However, diGenova added, the arrangement could be indicative of "collusion" that signals difficulty for prosecutors.

"If it's a serious case, you don't run the risk of having all sorts of collusion between people. It's just not done. If the [Justice] Department has accepted that, that tells me they're walking down the line of not bringing a case, because they're not serious if they have accepted that arrangement ... They've thrown in the towel," he said.

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Several media reports have suggested the Federal Bureau of Investigation is set to begin interviewing Clinton aides in coming weeks before issuing a recommendation to prosecutors on whether to indict the former secretary or any of her aides.