Clinton IT aide pleads Fifth, skips hearing

The Hill – by Katie Bo Williams

The former State Department employee who set up Hillary Clinton’s private email server did not appear before the House Oversight Committee on Tuesday morning despite a subpoena to testify on the deletion of some of Clinton’s emails.

Bryan Pagliano exercised his Fifth Amendment right not to testify against himself before the House Select Committee on Benghazi in 2015. He was also reportedly awarded an immunity deal during the FBI’s now-closed investigation into Clinton’s use of the server while secretary of State.  

“It’s a serious matter. Mr. Pagliano has chosen to evade a subpoena duly issued by the committee. I will consult with counsel and my colleagues to consider a full range of options available to address Mr. Pagliano’s failure to appear,” Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said.

“He should be here. When you are served a subpoena by the United States Congress, that is not optional,” he said.

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) suggested that contempt of Congress could be an option for the committee.

Democrats pushed back fiercely, arguing that the committee is unfairly expecting Pagliano to open himself up to criminal liability, thanks to an outstanding criminal referral from Chaffetz that asks the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia to investigate deletions from the server.

“What we have done is put him under threat of criminal prosecution,” argued Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.). “It puts him in jeopardy coming before this committee while that criminal referral is in existence. He’s an American citizen; I know the Constitution gets in the way of this committee sometimes.”

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) fired back, insisting that Pagliano had received immunity from prosecution. Lynch replied that the immunity deal was “limited,” according to Pagliano’s counsel.

“I want to read the agreement between the Department of Justice and this witness and whether that agreement requires this witness to cooperate with other entities of government — that is commonplace!” Gowdy shouted. “For them to say you can tell us the truth and not tell Congress makes no sense!”

A former senior adviser to President Bill Clinton and two IT specialists associated with Hillary Clinton’s email server on Tuesday morning did appear before the panel.

Those three individuals were Justin Cooper, the Clinton adviser who set up the email address, and two employees of Platte River Networks, the Colorado-based company that maintained the server.

Platte River Networks’ Bill Thornton and Paul Combetta were also subpoenaed to appear before the panel. Both exercised their Fifth Amendment right and refused to answer questions.

Chaffetz pressed Combetta on the security of the server and deletions of certain emails from it but ultimately excused him “out of respect for your constitutional rights.”

“You’re an IT guy who’s paid by the Clintons. Who told you to delete the emails?” Chaffetz asked.

“On advice of counsel, I respectfully decline to answer and exert my Fifth Amendment right,” Combetta replied to each question.

Chaffetz also pressed Thornton on the security of Clinton’s server.

“Are you aware of any hacks of [Platte River Networks’] systems?” he asked.

“I’d like to just ask you one other question that I can’t imagine has any implications on any criminal culpability. Were you interviewed by the FBI?” he also asked.

But Chaffetz was ultimately forced to excuse Thornton as well.

Cooper did respond to questions from lawmakers, who pressed him on cyberattacks on Clinton’s server as well as who had access to the server and how it was protected from hackers.

The Oversight Committee has moved quickly since the FBI earlier this month released its 58-page report detailing its investigation into Clinton’s server.

Tuesday’s hearing was the third in five days that was centered around Clinton’s server.

According to the report, a Platte River Networks technician deleted an archive of emails from the server in March 2015 — a few weeks after The New York Times publicly revealed Clinton’s exclusive use of the server during her time in office. The deletion also followed a House Benghazi Committee’s subpoena for records relating to the 2012 attack on the Libyan outpost.

According to the FBI’s notes, longtime Clinton aide Cheryl Mills instructed technology vendor Platte River Networks to delete a set of archived emails in December, 2014. Mills told investigators Clinton had decided she no longer needed access to emails older than 60 days.

But the technician apparently forgot the request and didn’t immediately comply. According to the FBI report, between March 25 and March 31 of 2015, the technician “believed he had an ‘oh s–t’ moment and … deleted the Clinton archive mailbox from [Platte River Networks] server and used BleachBit to delete the exported .PST files he had created on the server system containing Clinton’s emails.”

BleachBit is software designed to prevent the recovery of deleted files.

At that time, the Benghazi panel had already issued both a subpoena and an order that records relating to the 2012 attack be preserved.

Clinton and Mills told the FBI that they had no knowledge of the technician’s deletion of the emails. The technician, according to the report, “was aware of the existence of the [Benghazi Committee] preservation request and the fact that it meant he should not disturb Clinton’s email data on the [Platte River Networks] server.”

In a timeline of events pulled from the FBI report, Chaffetz noted a conference call between Clinton’s lawyers and the engineer who maintained the server. The call took place less than a week prior to the deletion of the email archive, and the engineer refused to answer questions about the contents, according to the FBI.

“The sequence of events leading up to the destruction of Secretary Clinton’s emails… raises questions about whether Secretary Clinton, acting through her attorneys, instructed [Platte River Networks] to destroy records relevant to the then-ongoing congressional investigations,” Chaffetz wrote in a recent letter to Platte River Networks.

Lawmakers repeatedly pressed both Thornton and Combetta Tuesday on an internal email exchange from August of 2015 originally revealed last fall through a Senate investigation.

“Wondering how we can sneak an email now after the fact asking them when they told us to cut the backups and have them confirm it for our records. Starting to think this whole thing is really covering up some shaddy [sic] shit,” the exchange read.

“I just think if we have it in writing that they told us to cut the backups, and we can go public saying we have had backups since day one, then we were told to trim to 30 days, it would make us look a WHOLE LOT better.”

“They wanted something in writing because they knew they were going to thrown under the bus,” insisted Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).

The deleted archive is separate from the 30,000 emails Clinton’s legal team deemed personal and erased prior to turning over an additional 30,000 work-related emails to the State Department in 2014.

The FBI recovered 14,900 work-related messages not turned over to the State Department through its investigation.

The State Department is expected to begin releasing those emails beginning in October.

3 thoughts on “Clinton IT aide pleads Fifth, skips hearing

  1. “The fiff, the fiff, I plead the fiff!” “Besides, I gotta go grocery shopping. I don’t have time to waste with people asking questions.”

    What? The whole case falls apart? Maybe he should open his eyes before he hits the ditch.

    There’s certainly overwhelming evidence of criminality well beyond his miniscule testimony.

    I still say she’ll skate and be president, truth, justice be damned. How do we allow a serial criminal to sit in the Oral office? Well, I guess Bill came there once!

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