A federal judge on Thursday forced the National Archives to undergo questioning by a conservative group seeking the release of Hillary Rodham Clinton's telephone logs during her years as first lady.
The telephone logs cover 20,000 pages.
In an unusual move, U.S. District Judge James Robertson authorized a lawyer for the group Judicial Watch to explore in coming weeks why the archives processes some requests before others.
The archives will have to produce at least one witness to answer Judicial Watch's questions.
The Clinton presidential library has hundreds of pending requests for the release of records. On Wednesday, the archives disseminated more than 11,000 pages of Mrs. Clinton's daily calendars from her White House years.
The archives wants to place Judicial Watch's lawsuit for the phone logs on hold for a year before the agency considers how soon to begin reviewing the telephone logs for possible release, a process the Justice Department lawyer estimated would take six to eight months.
At the start of a 20-minute court session, Robertson appeared prepared to rule in favor of the archives because no court precedent exists for Judicial Watch's request.
Judicial Watch, the judge observed, is trying to "jump to the head of the line" to get its request handled first. The judge said court papers filed by the private group are "hyperbolic" in tone.
When the lawyer for Judicial Watch noted that Wednesday's release of Clinton's appointment calendars had received widespread media attention, Robertson said, "Do we want to support that feeding frenzy?"
Then Justice Department lawyer Helen Hong described the archives' use of "rotating queues," "multirequest queues," and "queue structure" to handle requests.
When she finished, the judge looked at Judicial Watch lawyer Paul Orfanedes and announced, "You can have your discovery," the legal process by which one side gathers evidence through questions submitted to the other early in a court case.
The daily calendars released Wednesday showed that Mrs. Clinton's early job as health care policymaker gave way during the remainder of her years as first lady to a more traditional, restricted role.
While her influence clearly waned after the collapse of a national health care initiative, Clinton became part of the public face of her husband's administration, on issues from foreign policy to domestic legislation.
Among the documents released Wednesday by the National Archives: stage directions during the 1996 presidential campaign for a bill signing ceremony on legislation to protect workers' health insurance. "HRC will not have a role but will be seated in the front row," the schedule states.
The calendars reflect her extensive itineraries abroad, a record she has used during the campaign to claim she is ready to assume the presidency.
But while Clinton engaged in substantive meetings with foreign leaders over the eight years, the overseas events are heavy with more traditional appearances by a first lady.
The schedules show her meeting other political wives, having lunch with prominent women, touring cathedrals and hospitals and engaging in various ceremonial duties in trips to Japan, Russia and other countries.
The schedules showing Clinton's engagement on a wide range of matters are an outline and don't reflect phone calls or impromptu strategy sessions, says her presidential campaign.
The calendars raise at least as many questions as they answer about her statements in the campaign promoting her foreign policy experience.
For example, the calendars show that on problems in the Balkans, she met for 30 minutes in Washington on April 21, 1999, with the Macedonian ambassador to the United States, followed by her May 14, 1999, trip to the Balkans. What is unclear is whether that experience justifies her statement on the campaign trail that "I negotiated open borders to let fleeing refugees into safety from Kosovo."