In another tough break for media organizations furiously attempting to declare the Clinton email scandal dead and buried, the New York Times reported on Thursday that a second computer specialist who worked for Hillary Clinton was granted immunity from prosecution by the Justice Department.
This will make it more difficult for Congress to press for further investigations.
The new name is Paul Combetta, an employee of Platte River Networks, the private-sector company that ultimately took custody of Clinton’s server. The NYT implies we might learn of even more immunized computer technicians in the future.
Combetta turns out to be the tech who scrambled to delete Clinton’s emails and backups, in defiance of congressional subpoenas and the Freedom of Information Act, after the existence of the secret server was discovered. (Not to mention shortly after Hillary Clinton announced she was eager for the public to see all of her correspondence as Secretary of State.) His name was redacted in the copy of the FBI report released on the Friday before Labor Day weekend.
The other technician tied to Clinton’s server who has been immunized from prosecution is Bryan Pagliano, the staffer from Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign who set the email server up in her Chappaqua mansion when she became Secretary of State in 2009.
“As the F.B.I.’s report notes, neither Hillary Clinton nor her attorneys had knowledge of the Platte River Network employee’s actions. It appears he acted on his own and against guidance given by both Clinton’s and Platte River’s attorneys to retain all data in compliance with a congressional preservation request,” said Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon.
The New York Times does a good job of explaining why Combetta’s immunity deal provides a very convenient roadblock against further investigation:
In July, the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, announced that the bureau would not recommend that Mrs. Clinton and her aides be charged with a crime for their handling of classified information on the account.
Five days later, Mr. Chaffetz — who has led the charge in raising questions about the F.B.I.’s decision — asked prosecutors to investigate whether Mrs. Clinton had lied to Congress about her email account in testimony in October before the special committee investigating the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya. That request has been met with silence from the Justice Department.
The House oversight committee has asked officials from Platte River Networks, Mr. Combetta and others to appear at a hearing before his committee on Tuesday about how the email account was set up and how the messages were deleted.
The Times also reminds us we live in a wondrous new age, where destroying subpoenaed documents, and giving false statements to the FBI about it, are no longer considered crimes – at least, not for powerful Democrat politicians and their staffers:
According to the F.B.I. documents, Mr. Combetta told the bureau in February that he did not recall deleting the emails. But in May, he told a different story.
In the days after Mrs. Clinton’s staffers called Platte River Networks in March 2015, Mr. Combetta said realized that he had not followed a December 2014 order from Mrs. Clinton’s lawyers to have the emails deleted. Mr. Combetta then used a program called BleachBit to delete the messages, the bureau said.
In Mr. Combetta’s first interview with the F.B.I. in February, he said he did not recall seeing the preservation order from the Benghazi committee, which Mrs. Clinton’s lawyer, Cheryl D. Mills, had sent to Platte River. But in his May interview, he said that at the time he made the deletions “he was aware of the existence of the preservation request and the fact that it meant he should not disturb Clinton’s email data” on the Platte River server.
Jason Miller, senior communications adviser for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, said the revelation of Combetta’s immunity deal “underscores the need for a special prosecutor to be appointed.”
“Not only did the Clinton IT staffer who set up her illicit server take action to avoid prosecution, so did the IT worker who deleted her emails while they were under a preservation order from Congress. It’s hard not to look at this and see a concerted effort to keep Hillary Clinton’s State Department emails from seeing the light of day, and the mounting evidence of corruption involving the Clinton Foundation shows there was plenty to hide,” said Miller.
House Benghazi Committee chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC), a former prosecutor, said he was “stunned” by the New York Times piece.
“If the FBI and the Department of Justice gave this witness transactional immunity, it is tantamount to giving the trigger man immunity in a robbery case,” Gowdy said in a Fox News interview.
“It looks like they gave immunity to the very person you would most want to prosecute, which is the person who destroyed official public records after there was a subpoena, and after there was a preservation order,” he said, qualifying his comments by stipulating that he wanted to know more about the type of immunity granted to Combetta, and wished to see the content of the New York Times article thoroughly verified.
Gowdy noted that Combetta decided to delete “emails that have been in existence for five years, emails that he’s known about at least since December of 2014,” supposedly “all on his own.”
“That defies logic, why some techie in Colorado would – despite a subpoena, despite a preservation order, but after a conference call with David Kendall and Cheryl Mills – decide on his own that he is going to destroy public records,” Gowdy argued, referring to Clinton’s lawyer and former chief of staff, who the FBI sometimes allows to role-play as Clinton’s lawyer during interviews with the former Secretary of State.
“And then you grant this person immunity, which means perhaps that he cannot be prosecuted. Comey’s already said he’s not going to prosecute anybody. We need to ask the FBI: what kind of immunity did you give, and why did you give it to the triggerman? Why did you give it to the person who actually destroyed documents?” Gowdy asked, noting that such destruction of evidence is compelling proof of the nefarious “intent” FBI Director James Comey claimed was absent from the Clinton case.
He said the most charitable interpretation of the immunity given to Pagliano and Combetta was that the FBI “guessed wrong” and “blew it,” by protecting the very people they would ultimately need to prosecute.
“You better be very right on who the culprit is, if you’re going to give transactional immunity,” Gowdy explained. “And if that’s what they did, they immunized the one person that you would most want to prosecute, for the destruction of government records. It is, frankly, stunning.”