Searching For Answers In The Land Of The Immunized: FBI Discloses Five Separate Immunity Deals In Email Scandal

Jcomey-100cheryl_d-_millsLast week, the disclosure of a total of five immunity agreements handed out by the Justice Department as part of its investigation of the Clinton email scandal. The extent of the deals and the recipients were surprising, particularly in the failure to previously disclose those deals. As a criminal defense lawyer, I was surprised to see the deals include Cheryl Mills, one of the highest officials accused in the deletion of tens of thousands of emails and the failure to heed warnings over the risk to national security from the use of the Clinton private server. Below is the column.

When FBI Director James B. Comey announced that there would be no criminal charges in the Clinton email scandal, there was an outcry by many who saw glaring contradictions, attempts to destroy evidence, and knowing failures to protect classified or sensitive information. At the time, I acknowledged that Comey’s decision was understandable and, while criminal charges might have been possible, this was not out of bounds of prosecutorial discretion. However, the news this week of a previously undisclosed immunity deal with a top Clinton aide raises serious questions over the handling of the FBI investigation.

The latest recipient of an immunity deal from the Justice Department is one of Clinton’s closest aides and a figure at the heart of the email scandal, Cheryl Mills. She joins two other central figures in benefiting from such deals: former State Department staffer, Bryan Pagliano and tech specialist Paul Combetta. In addition to at least two other immunized witnesses according to the Associated Press, they represent the big three of officials involved in the underlying allegations of Clinton’s potential criminal conduct. Their collective immunization is baffling.

For the Obama Administration, the criminal investigation into the Democratic presidential nominee and its prior secretary of State came with a heightened level of public scrutiny and skepticism. Many doubted that the administration would seriously pursue the Clintons, a family of political royalty in both Democratic and establishment circles. The easiest way for prosecutors to scuttle a criminal case is to immunize those people who are at the greatest risk of criminal indictment. Often prosecutors will avoid immunity deals in favor of offering plea bargains to key players, tying their cooperation against others to reduced sentences. Although a witness can lose an immunity deal by withholding evidence or lying, a witness can undermine cases against superiors by tailoring their accounts or memories to avoid statements showing intent or knowledge.

Before the disclosure of the Mills immunity deal, the two prior deals were curious given the evidence against both Pagliano and Combetta. Pagliano set up the notorious private server and later joined Clinton at the State Department, where various people raised objections to her use of unsecured communications. If Pagliano was problematic, Combetta’s immunity deal was perplexing. Combetta used a product called BleachBit to eradicate evidence of Clinton emails after a telephone conference with Clinton staffers. When he used the product, he admitted that he knew that Congress had issued a subpoena ordering the preservation of the evidence. Then, this month, it was alleged by a “Twitter sleuth” that Combetta, acting under the alias “stonetear,” solicited advice on how to change email records to remove a “VIP’s (VERY VIP) email address.” Either Combetta did not disclose this effort in violation of his immunity deal or the Justice Department effectively removed a serious threat of indictment though the agreement. Despite immunity deals pledging cooperation with all parts of the government, both Pagliano and Combetta have refused to answer questions from Congress, and Pagliano is facing a contempt sanction.

Mills is a participant in key emails and features prominently in allegations of destroyed emails. She was alleged to have been informed repeatedly of the dangers to national security, particularly regarding Clinton’s use of a personal BlackBerry. She was also central in the deletion of tens of thousands of emails that Clinton claimed were purely personal and not work related.

Many of those emails are now known to have discussed official issues and potentially embarrassing disclosures. Mills’ role in the later investigations has also been controversial. Surprisingly, defense attorney Beth Wilkinson agreed to jointly represent various former aides, including not just Mills but Deputy Chief Jake Sullivan, Mills’ deputy Heather Samuelson, and Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines. Wilkinson is a very accomplished lawyer and there is no evidence of unethical acts. However, attorneys rarely represent parties with potential conflicts of interest and the agreement allowed for a single attorney to monitor the consistency of aides in their accounts.

The joint representation of the Clinton aides increased the chance for a uniform account in the controversy. Making this even more concerning is that Mills was allowed by the FBI to sit in on the interviews with Clinton, despite that fact that she was a key witness herself in the investigation. Mills, who is a lawyer, did not hold a legal position at the State Department and should have been excluded from the interviews. Finally, Mills has continuing interests in the election of Hillary Clinton, a development that would place her at the very top of the government.

Of all of the individuals who would warrant immunity, most would view Mills as the very last on any list. If one assumes that there may have been criminal conduct, it is equivalent to immunizing H.R. Haldeman and John D. Ehrlichman in the investigation of Watergate. Mills appears repeatedly at critical moments as one of the most senior figures making decisions or monitoring events, including being informed as Clinton chief of staff of the search for emails by the State Department in response to a Freedom of Information demand in 2012 (three years before the disclosure of Clinton’s use of a private email server). In such circumstances, immunity can amount to impunity. Immunity does not remove the threat of prosecution, but it certainly reduces that threat, while the value of defending prior benefactors or loyalties can remain. Given the overlapping immunity deals, many will now find it unsurprising that Comey did not find evidence of “intentional misconduct or indications of disloyalty . . . or efforts to obstruct justice.”

Comey removed the greatest threat that could have been used to get two underlings to implicate senior officials, and then gave immunity to the senior official most at risk of a charge. In the land of the immunized, the degree of cooperation can sometimes be as difficult to establish as the truth.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University and a member of USA TODAY’s board of contributors.

162 thoughts on “Searching For Answers In The Land Of The Immunized: FBI Discloses Five Separate Immunity Deals In Email Scandal”

  1. Sorry, did I say Trump is suspected of using cocaine? It turns out he’s more of a speed freak. Apparently Spy Magazine reported on his (and his brother’s), use of amphetamines under the watch of a Dr. Greenberg in NYC. Greenberg a notorious pill pusher and “weight loss” Doctor.

    Long term amphetamine use would explain his distorted self image, megalomania, narcissism and paranoia. It also would explain his obsession with his shrinky-dinky, one of the other well known side effects.

    And the sniffing? He’s probably sick.

  2. Trump, Hillary, Trump, Hillary. Trump, in one of his better moments, admitted bribing Hillary in the past (and thus knowing how Washington politics works) and it’s almost certain that assertion is accurate (and if not there are many, many, many, many, many, many others like it which are) which makes Hillary’s gall at criticizing him for tax evasion all the more grotesquely absurd.

    Take your pick, you are in the psycho ward, sorry, loser’s camp. America loves it’s irony like everything else, in super sized portions.

  3. What do we hear during tax season? Ads for CPAs declaring we shouldn’t pay a dime more than we owe. Bragging about the ability to find us every single tax deduction we could possibly qualify for.

    Why is thriftiness a virtue in the poor and the middle class, but not for the rich?

    If Trump did not exploit every single tax deduction and legal shelter available to him, he should fire his CPAs and tax attorneys. That would be like us failing to use the dependent child or mortgage interest credit, because it is somehow immoral to utilities tax deductions.

    Actual fraud matters. But utilizing every single legal tax savings possible is just good economy. Pointing at someone for using deductions makes zero sense.

  4. I just could not understand why the FBI declined to press charges, when every requirement of the statute was met.

    Now I know. They didn’t press charges because they gave everyone immunity, without a contingency on rolling on who directed them.

    This entirely deflates any argument that HRC was not charged because she did not break the law.

    We really have allowed the rise of a government ruling class.

    1. It boggles the mind. And they did it right out in front of everyone – with hardly a murmur.

  5. He may have bragged about not paying taxes, I don’t think he bragged about doing anything illegal. He just used our tax laws to his favor. All he’s doing is playing by the rules we allow to happen. These tax laws should be changed. The problem is these are the current rules of the game that Donald Trump and the rest of us are playing by. Our tax code is too big and too complicated. Trump and other super wealthy people have tax lawyers and accountants to help them navigate through the system.

  6. “Taxes are for the little peoples”! Leona Helmsley. Laws are for the little people. Hilary Clinton.

    1. Trump is the one that pays no taxes. He bragged about it last tight. Leona Hemsley was also a hotel owner that did not pay her bills.

      1. Ralph, I doubt that Trump never paid any taxes. I don’t really know what specific return Clinton was talking about, but it is likely that the return involved a startup business. Startups do not usually earn money the first year. When a business owner pays for everything to start a business, his expenses usually exceed his income. That means that he would owe no taxes because his income is zero. It would be stupid to pay taxes when your income is zero.

        This is a problem with Clinton. She does not have a clue how business operates. She understands nothing about economics and what makes the economy go. She is like someone who puts water into a gasoline engine and expects it to run.

        I suppose it is possible that Trump is a tax evader like Leona Helmsley was, or like Wesley Snipes, but I doubt it. What he admitted to last night was being smart enough to avoid paying more taxes than what is required by law. The government wastes money and should not be paid more than they are owed.

      2. Ralphy, paying bills is different than paying taxes. They share some of the same characteristics, but are different. Sorta like paying your property taxes vs your car payment.

      1. If you think he won, please encourage him to perform in exactly the same manner the next time.

      2. He posted today all the “polls” he won. I like the non scientific ones where people can vote as often as they want. Yeah, he won the breitbart poll and the drudge poll both which I certainly thought she would win. LOL.

        1. Greece – he won ALL the snap polls except the Clinton News Network which was 70% Democratic. He won the Times mag, etc.

    1. Polls? HA, HA. Probably no more than 2 or 3 polls are actually reliable. The others are “Bought” and paid for by dis side or dat side to give the results that are paid for.
      Zelots use the polls to say Ha, my guy/gal is ahead. Tis like saying my dog can beat your dog in a dog fit.

      Everything else is just hot air.

      1. Here’s one: many people believe that Webster Hubbel is Chelsea’s biological father.

  7. I see they still haven’t found a cure for BDS. Maybe we need to bring Jerry Lewis back for a telethon.

  8. I practiced criminal law many years before retiring and had never seen anything like this. I don’t understand why Comey did not give Clinton immunity and could have saved a lot of time and money. The only intent that Comey proved was “he had no intent to ever prosecute any one in this case”. You interview the “Target” at her convenience on a Saturday at her home with all her cronies present, not under oath, no recordings, no steno and Comey was not even present—– uh duh!!!!!!!!!!!!! Was she holding the grand baby when interviewed?

    1. Kind of like when Bush and Cheney “testified” about 9/11 eh?
      No swearing in, no recording, no outside witnesses, no nothing.

      I’m sure you were upset about that, right?

      1. Lots of people were upset, but in the words of your next President: “what difference does it make?”.
        Hillary knows that 9/11 was an inside job, and most informed Democrats know that the Clintons are just as sleazy as most other 1%ers.

        Rich people KISS each other. Poor people P*** on each other.

        1. Again, Bill, we don’t get paid to listen to you, nor can we write scrps for you.

  9. 51 “manterruptions” in 90 minutes.
    A lot of people are saying that plus the sniffling is a sure sign Trump has a cocaine problem. I don’t know. But a lot of people are saying…

    1. LOL. This guy has NO ability to take responsibility for anything. Now he blames the microphone for his sniffling. I don’t know, but many people say that his frequent sips of water were caused by dry mouth associated with the surge of adrenaline related to debate performance anxiety. She wiped the floor with him. The only area that he “won” was bullying, but that’s not news.

      1. coconuts – Trump may have swung some voters, Hillary did not. That was the purpose of this debate. Hillary was expected to win. The moderator was also debating Trump.

    2. philat – if he has a cocaine problem he will just be the same as Clinton’s. However there has not been any indication of his having a problem prior to this. The real test will be the Townhall.
      All Trump had to do this time was stay alive.

      1. Don’t think he has a cocaine problem. He has many problems but don’t think that is one of them.

      2. I didn’t say he has a cocaine problem. I have no way of knowing. But a lot of people are saying that.

        Also apparently the only voters he “swung” we’re the ones who swung away from him.

        Mostly shaking their heads and saying “WTF was I thinking?!”

          1. Contrary to what you might believe or feel, this is not the only web page on the Internet.

        1. Pretty funny. ROFL. So, you can repeat something you SAY but a lot of people saying, but you have nothing to support that claim. Like you, that is hilarious.

          1. Yes, one of Trumps favorite tactics.
            “Other people are saying”. “I’ve heard it reported.”

    3. People who are real coke heads rub it in through their anal sphyncters
      Same buzz
      No sniffing

  10. JT isn’t naive, he’s just so much a part of the worldview held by the 1% that he genuinely IS shocked about the sleaze that’s so much a part of that crowd.

  11. Corruption has spread to every nook and cranny of our society. James Comey is a fraud. Everything about this case reeks of broad-based criminal activity and intent.

  12. It is easy to connect the dots once you know that Obama was using a pseudonym to communicate classified information to Hillary on her secret server. When Huma was told by the FBI that Obama had used a pseudonym, she temporarily forgot to obscure the truth and gasped “how is that not classified?” What it means is that Obama is guilty of the same crime as Hillary. Hillary could not be prosecuted without Obama being prosecuted for the same crime. So the Justice Department and FBI conspired to rig the investigation so neither would be prosecuted for mishandling classified information.

    Andy McCarthy pulled it all together at National Review. It is worth a read.

      1. So why wouldn’t Obama just say that any information he sent, was in his opinion not classified? I believe he is the highest classification authority in the Government.

        1. Yes, why wouldn’t he? The leader of the most transparent administration ever?

          If anything he sent was not classified, why are we not getting to read it? Why even use a pseudonym?

          Why have the NSA’s snooping be classified, such that Wyden and Udall could not talk about it?

          Can the NSA scoop up the traffic off servers they know nothing about?

          1. Jay S. may be correct that Obama has the authority to “unclassify” documents, correspondence, etc.
            If he did that, it should make retrieval and publication of his emails easier under FOIA.
            If he’s Bleachbit them, then FOIA wouldn’t do much good.

        2. In deed, why not? Do you not think that he would ever send info that had the highest classification available? Like the events leading up to the takedown of Bin Laden?

          1. Materials that are believed to be classified by the sender, and deemed as such, and not contradicted by higher classification authority, can be sent over the special classified Government internet. Messages sent in this way are never seen by the public.

    The Satanic state of Israel, Zionist Jews have hijacked the American media & political system
    Israel, Zionist Jews & American Traitors did 9/11
    2016 Election Cover-up

    Trump, Clinton & Sanders are Zionists. Zionists are America’s Enemies
    The U.S. Government, Democrats & Republicans are infested with Zionists. America is occupied by Zionist Nazi Terrorists
    Israel: The Elephant in the US Election
    “The elephant is the Jewish state of Israel and the subservience of both the Democratic and the Republican candidates to Israel”

    1. I’m new around here. Please tell me: what is a “zionist.’ Be specific. Say it in stupid-like-I-am required detail.

      What is the “ism,” and what is the thing. And what are the people who cling to the thing. Just tell me what you are taking about. If this thing, and these people are such a grave threat–one of which I have absolutely no awareness–I’d certainly like to be advised of it. Help!


      1. A “threat” can be of many types.
        I think in this case of emails, there is that ‘threat’ because of either ignoring or just stupid about the handling of secrets. There are all kinds of secrets – secrets about a secret lover to secrets of spy satellite images of N. Korea’s missile pad or nuke labs. Secrets can range from embarrassing, to the kind that if revealed, can cost some their lives.
        Born in ’42 and growing up in the WWII post war years, we learned of spies, treason, selling of secrets, etc. Certainly that cost lives. For me, in addition to a double standard (Gen. Petras), I get so damn mad at the way business of the US has been conducted by some elitist politicians. I say politicians, because it is rare that an everyday “joe” is an elitist.

        It is the way that these email secrets have been managed, protected, lied about, silenced, denied, etc., that has so damn many people upset with this whole sordid history.

        If you ask me, perhaps the disgusting barrel of (fill in your own adverb) is what the average person so upset with this whole sordid affair.

    2. This “Patriot” is nothing but a lunatic. He sees Zionists in every street corner. He is a Jew hater. I am a Jew and see the nonsense in his post. “Zionist Nazis”???? Does he even know what those terms mean?

      1. You are welcome here, Alfred.

        If Patriot has disagreements with the Israeli government, it is not apparent because of everything else he spouts off.

        1. Arnie,
          It also attracts people who disagree with them.

          The blog attracts people who are interested in discussing and debating civil liberties and legal issues.

        2. “This blog attracts anti-Jewish, anti-black, anti-Musim and anti-gay posters. It is a shame.”

          Shame? No, it’s good! Because people that believe that way EXIST and the best way to challenge them is to expose them in a forum where views are freely exchanged.

          The shame is in the ignorance that comes from NOT being able to reasonably and rationally confront those whose views you oppose. This site does a fairly good job of tolerating dissenting opinions; even those that would seek to silence those with whom they disagree.

  14. Which political party does the Mafia support more in the U.S.A.?

    The Mafia, as you might have guessed already, is an opportunistic organization, not an ideological one. Their loyalties could and did shift with the wind. Throughout most of the 20th Century, they were most closely allied with the Democratic Party on the local level because many big city Democratic mayors were the ‘bosses’ of corrupt city governments known as political ‘machines’.

    Obama’s home town of Chicago. In the past it was Al Capone. Today it’s the Latin Kings.

    Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s last opponent, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, was caught posing with Latin Kings gang leaders who had been arrested after working on a political campaign. His son was arrested for threatening police officers as a member of the Two Six gang. Garcia’s protégé, Ricardo Muñoz, benefited from an election in which the Latin Kings turned out to vote for him on pain of being beaten up by other gang members.

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