I recently wrote a column on FBI investigation into the Clinton email scandal and revised my view as to the handling of the investigation in light of the five immunity deals handed out by the Justice Department. I had previously noted that FBI Director James Comey was within accepted lines of prosecutorial discretion in declining criminal charges, even though I believed that such charges could have been brought. However, the news of the immunity deals (and particularly the deal given top ranking Clinton aide Cheryl Mills) was baffling and those deals seriously undermined the ability to bring criminal charges in my view. Now, Comey has testified before both the Senate and the House. His answers only magnified concerns over the impact and even the intent of granting immunity to those most at risk of criminal charges.
Before his testimony in the House, Comey spoke in the Senate and stated that he gave immunity to Mills because she refused to turn over her laptop — a highly dubious rationale, as I previously discussed.
First the timeline is now becoming clear and it makes the immunity deal even more bizarre given what the FBI knew about Colorado-based tech specialist Paul Combetta and Clinton aides Cheryl Mills and IT specialist Bryan Pagliano.
In July 2014, then-chief of staff Cheryl Mills was told that Clinton’s emails were being sought.
On July 23, 2014 Combetta got a call from Mills on the server and emails.
On July 24, 2014, Combetta received an email from Clinton IT specialist Pagliano.
On July 24, Combetta then went online to Reddit to solicit help on stripping out “a VIP’s (VERY VIP) email address from a bunch of archived emails.” He revealed that “they don’t want the VIP’s email address exposed to anyone.”
What is incredible is that the Justice Department would give immunity to the parties on both ends of those communications — guaranteeing that a criminal prosecution is no longer a real threat.
Comey deepened those concerns with his testimony. After these conversations with Mills and Clinton aides, Combetta destroyed the evidence. Comey admits that that Mills did disclose the preservation order. Combetta however mysteriously then destroys the evidence. Comey was asked what he got from the immunity deal with Combetta. He said “We learned no one directed him to do that.” First, that is a pretty poor showing for immunity, particularly when there is usually a proffer offered before an immunity grant on the expected content of immunized testimony. The greater problem is that it makes little sense. Why would Combetta take it upon himself to destroy evidence that he knew was being sought by Congress and was already a matter of intense national attention. Comey could not explain why he simply accepted Combetta’s word or why that denial was worth an immunity deal.
None of that makes any logical sense if you are trying to build a criminal case. It certainly strains credulity to believe that a techie in Colorado decided to unilaterally defy the United States Congress and destroy evidence in one of the nation’s greatest scandals. The fact that this occurred immediately after calls from Clinton figures like Mills would raise considerable doubt in most investigators. Yet, the Justice Department jumped at the chance to immunize the key players in the key communications. That is a legitimate matter of congressional concern . . . and investigation.