Hillary Clinton’s position on the email scandal has repeatedly changed from its first emergence in the presidential campaign from denial of bad judgment to the denial of the use of the private server for any classified information to the denial of any material “marked” as classified to the denial of seeing or understanding classified markings. However, one claim has remained unchanged. Clinton has maintained that she and her staff have “cooperated fully” with investigators. That claim was previously shown to be untrue when it was revealed that neither Clinton nor her staff would agree to speak with State Department investigators even though they said that such interviews were needed to determine the scope any damage to national security or security breaches. Now, however, the lack of cooperation has been put into sharper relief with the testimony of FBI Director James B. Comey this week. My column this week raised serious misgivings over the handling of the investigation with the disclosure of five immunity grants by the Justice Department, including one given to Cheryl Mills. Those misgivings were raised with Comey before the United States Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee where Comey revealed the extent to which Clinton aides refused to cooperate, including an assertion of the privilege against self-incrimination raised before answering questions about a key telephone conference conversation before the infamous “bleaching” over email records being sought by Congress. Comey testifies today before the House Oversight Committee. I am currently scheduled to discuss these issues tonight on the O’Reilly Factor.
Comey insisted that there was nothing “irregular” about the deal given Mills despite the countervailing concerns detailed in my column. His defense of the immunity deals was that the Clinton staff would not cooperate without being protected from criminal prosecution based on their answers or cooperation. The lack of cooperation was captured in the fact that Mills refused to turn over her laptop without such an immunity grant. This was government information needed in a criminal investigation and Mills refused until they gave her immunity. So here is a laptop with potential criminal information and classified information, but Mills withheld it as leverage for immunity under an “active production immunity” deal.
Comey’s defense of the deal was highly dubious: “The FBI judgment was we need to get to that laptop. We need to see what it is. This investigation’s been going on for a year. And this was, in the negotiation, a tool that her lawyer asked for, that the Department of Justice granted so we could get the laptop.” So the Justice Department gave immunity to one of the highest ranking individuals and the figure most often cited as at risk for criminal charges . . . to get a laptop that the FBI could have secured through a order of production. The assumption of a long drawn out fight also assumed that the public disclosure of the Clinton staff withholding key information would not have forced the hand of Mills. Comey also did not address the bizarre role of Mills who, despite being a key and immunized witness, was allowed to sit in on Clinton’s questioning.
As for Paul Combetta, an employee at Platte River Networks, who deleted information that he reportedly knew was being sought by Congress, Comey insisted that “The department granted immunity to the one fellow who erased the stuff so that we could figure out, did anybody tell you to do this, did anybody ask you do this, to see if we could make an obstruction case — we couldn’t.” So you gave immunity to a witness who was facing a real threat of criminal charge and would be likely eager for a plea bargain? Immunity was not needed to get that individual to cooperate but it is also a questionable defense when you also gave immunity to the very high-ranking officials who was involved in the key decisions over the deletion of the emails.
Magnifying these concerns further is a recent disclosure of FBI material from the investigation, including “302 forms” from FBI interviews. There is a telling passage included in one such report from the end of page 18. The paragraph is assumed to refer to the interview of Combetta or another Platte River employee. When the FBI turned to that key telephone conference with Kendall and Mills. The witness immediately stops cooperating and invokes his privilege against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment. It was a telling invocation over a conversation with Clinton’s lawyers. Yet, the Justice Department gave both Combetta and the key Clinton aide in the conversation, Mills, immunity.
Putting aside the questionable judgment behind such immunity grants, one thing is clear: as with the total refusal to cooperate with the State Department investigation, there was a refusal to cooperate with the FBI investigation by key Clinton figures until they received grants of immunity — even without public records.