Last 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.
We have been discussing the controversy surrounding the decision of the Justice Department to give immunity to former State Department staffer, Bryan Pagliano and tech specialist Paul Combetta — thereby removing much of the pressure that could have been brought to bear with the threat of criminal charges. That immunity deal became even more questionable when it was disclosed that Combetta used Bleachbit to destroy email records despite his knowledge that those records were being sought by Congress. Now, there is an allegation that Combetta sought advice on the website for how to hide a “VIP’s (VERY VIP) email address.” If true, that would show a conscious effort to conceal the identity of the VIP and illegally alter federal records. 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. Update: the House Committee has ordered Reddit to preserve all messages concerning “Stonetear.”
Yesterday, I testified about the subpoena power of Congress under Article I and briefly discussed the recent free speech challenge to the Senate subpoena issued against Backpage.com. I mentioned in the hearing that the district court had issued a sweeping reaffirmation of congressional subpoena authority, but that Chief Justice John Roberts had issued a stay. Now, the Supreme Court denied the appeal. The decision further strengthens the case of the House Science Committee.
I will testify this morning before the United States House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology on the controversy over dueling state and federal investigations involving the climate change debate. After various state attorneys general announced investigations of Exxon Company over its opposition to climate change theories (including subpoenas either to or concerning conservation public interest groups), the Committee issued its own subpoenas to the prosecutors and environmental public interest groups involved in the campaign. That has triggered a confrontation as the prosecutors and environmental groups raised constitutional objections to the House subpoenas. The full committee hearing will start at 10 am in 2318 Rayburn House Office Building.
I recently discussed the questions raised over the Justice Department giving the two former aides to Hillary Clinton immunity — and thereby removing any serious threat of prosecution while seeking information on their superiors. As part of that discussion, I posed the question of whether these previously immunized witnesses would defy Congress. That confrontation appears to be brewing after the former State Department IT specialist who set up Hillary Clinton’s private server Bryan Pagliano simply ignored a subpoena to appear this week before the United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Ironically, I will be testifying this morning on the congressional authority to enforce subpoenas in the House of Representatives. House oversight committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (right) will now have to decide whether to move to hold Pagliano and other defiant former Clinton aides in contempt for refusing to appear or respond to the Committee.
We previously discussed the controversy over the FBI granting immunity to former State Department staffer, Bryan Pagliano, who set up a server in Mrs. Clinton’s home in Chappaqua, N.Y., and worked for her at the State Department. Pagliano had refused to cooperate after invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. He was an obvious target of potential criminal charges if he knew that the server was meant to circumvent federal laws, including the mishandling of classified information. The granting of immunity removed the threat for his cooperation, a leverage often used to implication others who may be higher up in the chain of command. Now, as the record appears to confirm that email records were knowingly destroyed after the issuing of a congressional subpoena to preserve such record, it also appears that the Justice Department gave immunity to the other person most at risk of a criminal charge — and the person some are likely to argue would have been the most likely to be able to implicate others. He is computer specialist, Paul Combetta.
One of the most troubling aspects of the recently released documents from the FBI is a timeline established for when Clinton staffers used BleachBit to try to eradicate emails and prevent them from ever being recovered. It appears that staff may have deleted the email archive after the staff received a subpoena to preserve all such evidence. The staffer working for Platte River Networks (PRN) in Denver, Colorado reportedly had what was described as an “Oh Shit” moment when they realized that the archive could be used to uncover what the Clinton staff deleted.