deletion of Clinton’s emails

FBI Director James Comey denies Paul Combetta attempted to cover up Clinton’s emails.

In a House Judiciary Committee hearing, Comey comments on a July 2014 Reddit post by Paul Combetta, a Platte River Networks employee who helped manage Clinton’s private server.

Comey says, “Our team concluded that what he was trying to do was when they produced emails not have the actual address but have some name or placeholder instead of the actual dot-com address in the ‘From:’ line.” As a result, the FBI believes Combetta was not engaged in a secret cover-up when he used his “stonetear” alias on the Reddit website to ask for a tool that could delete Clinton’s email address throughout a large file.

However, Republican lawmakers believe Combetta’s Reddit post reveals an effort to hide Clinton’s emails from investigators. For example, committee chair Bob Goodlatte (R) says he believes it was “obviously part of a cover-up. … This clearly demonstrates an action to destroy evidence by people operating Clinton’s private server and her staff.” (Politico, 09/28/2016)

Two former managers of Clinton’s private server plead the Fifth before a Congressional hearing; one other fails to appear at all.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee holds a public hearing related to the management of Clinton’s private server. Four people associated with the management of Clinton’s private server had been served by Congressional subpoenas on September 8, 2016 to force them to testimony:

Paul Combetta (left) Bill Thornton (center) Justin Cooper (right) (Credit: CSpan)

Paul Combetta (left) Bill Thornton (center) Justin Cooper (right) (Credit: CSpan)

  • Bryan Pagliano, a former State Department employee who managed Clinton’s server while she was secretary of state. He defies the subpoena by failing to appear at all.
  • Justin Cooper, a former Bill Clinton aide who helped Pagliano manage the server. He does answer questions for nearly two hours at the hearing.
  • Paul Combetta, a Platte River Networks (PRN) employee, which managed the server from June 2013 until at least late 2015. He deleted and then wiped all of Clinton’s emails from her server. He fails to answer any questions and pleads the Fifth instead.
  • Bill Thornton, another PRN employee who managed the server with Combetta. He also to answer any questions and pleads the Fifth instead.

Pagliano’s lawyers have complained the hearing is politically biased and he will continue to refuse to participate. He has also failed to cooperate with another Congressional committee in 2015, a State Department inspector general’s investigation, and a deposition in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit.

Representative Jason Chaffetz (R) says of Pagliano’s refusal to appear: “He made the decision not to be here and there are consequences for that. … We’ll look at the full range of options. If anybody is under any illusion I’m going to let go of this and let it sail off into the sunset they are very ill-advised.” However, he doesn’t specify what the penalties might be. (The Associated Press, 9/13/2016) (US Congress, 9/13/2016)

Austin McChord, the CEO of Datto, Inc., was also scheduled to appear, but there is no mention of him. Presumably, he is rescheduled for another hearing.

Senator Grassley accuses the FBI of manipulating which information about the Clinton email investigation becomes public in order to hide certain events.

Senator Charles Grassley (R), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, speaks in the Senate about difficulties he is having with the FBI’s selective release of information regarding the FBI’s Clinton email investigation.

Senator Charles Grassley speaks on the Senate floor on September 12, 2016. (Credit: YouTube)

Senator Charles Grassley takes to the Senate floor on September 12, 2016. (Credit: Public domain)

He points out that the FBI has taken the unusual step of releasing the FBI’s final report and Clinton interview summary. “However, its summary is misleading or inaccurate in some key details and leaves out other important facts altogether.”

He says there are dozens of completely unclassified witness reports, but even some Congressional staffers can’t see them “because the FBI improperly bundled [them] with a small amount of classified information, and told the Senate to treat it all as if it were classified.”

He says the normal procedure is for documents to have the classified portions marked. Then the unclassified portions can be released. But in defiance of regulations and a clear executive order on how such material should be handled, “the FBI has ‘instructed’ the Senate office that handles classified information not to separate the unclassified information.”

He points in particular to recently revealed news that Paul Combetta, an employee of the company (Platte River Networks) that managed Clinton’s private server from June 2013 onwards, deleted and wiped all of Clinton’s emails from the server in March 2015. Grassley claims “there is key information related to that issue that is still being kept secret, even though it is unclassified. If I honor the FBI’s ‘instruction’ not to disclose the unclassified information it provided to Congress, I cannot explain why.”

He also says, “Inaccuracies are spreading because of the FBI’s selective release. For example, the FBI’s recently released summary memo may be contradicted by other unclassified interview summaries that are being kept locked away from the public.”

He says he has been fighting the FBI on this, but without success so far, as the FBI isn’t even replying to his letters. (US Senate, 9/13/2016) (YouTube, 9/13/2016)

The FBI gave an immunity deal to the computer employee who deleted and wiped Clinton’s emails.

Paul Combetta (Credit: public domain)

Paul Combetta (Credit: public domain)

The New York Times reveals that the Platte River Networks (PRN) employee mentioned in a recently released FBI report who deleted and then wiped Clinton’s emails from her private server in March 2015 is named Paul Combetta. Furthermore, at some unknown point during the investigation, the FBI gave him an immunity deal. This is “according to a law enforcement official and others briefed on the investigation.”

It was reported in March 2016 that Clinton computer technician Bryan Pagliano got an immunity deal, but Combetta’s deal stayed secret. Even the FBI’s Clinton email investigation final report, released on September 2, 2016, makes no mention of it. The report also redacted every mention of Combetta’s name, but the Times says “the law enforcement official and others familiar with the case identified the employee as Mr. Combetta.”

Clinton spokesperson Brian Fallon says the deletions by Combetta have already been “thoroughly examined by the FBI prior to its decision to close out this case.”

However, many questions remain, including why Combetta got immunity and when. He was interviewed by the FBI twice, and his answers in his second interview sometimes directly contradict his answers in his first interview, meaning he had to have lied to the FBI at least once, which is a felony. In his second interview also admitted to deleting Clinton’s emails despite being aware of a Congressional order to preserve her emails, which would suggest an admission of additional crimes.

Fallon also comments, “As the FBI’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.”

The House Oversight Committee has asked PRN employees, including Combetta, to appear at a committee hearing on September 13, 2016, about how the email deletions and other matters. (The New York Times, 9/8/2016)

Representative Chaffetz asks a federal prosecutor to determine if Clinton and/or members of her staff played a role in deleting her emails from her private server.

Channing Phillips (Credit: public domain)

Channing Phillips (Credit: public domain)

The request comes in the form of a letter from Representative Jason Chaffetz (R), chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, to Channing Phillips, the US attorney for the District of Columbia. It asks the Justice Department to “investigate and determine whether Secretary Clinton or her employees and contractors violated statutes that prohibit destruction of records, obstruction of congressional inquiries, and concealment or cover up of evidence material to a congressional investigation.”

Although the FBI ended its Clinton email investigation in July 2016 without recommending an indictment of Clinton or anyone else, newly revealed evidence indicates Platte River Networks (PRN) employee Paul Combetta deleted and wiped all of Clinton’s emails in March 2015. He had communications with Clinton’s lawyers just days before and after the deletions, but the FBI was unable to determine what was said in those communications, possibly due to an assertion of attorney-client privilege. (Salon, 9/6/2016)

It is alleged that Clinton’s lawyers used a computer program to make sure her deleted emails couldn’t be recovered.

Since late 2014, when Clinton and her lawyers deleted over 31,000 of Clinton’s emails from when she was secretary of state, it has been unclear if the emails were simply deleted or “wiped,” meaning deliberate steps were taken to make sure they couldn’t be recovered later.

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Trey Gowdy appears with Martha MacCallum on Fox News on August 25, 2016. (Credit: Fox News)

In an interview, Representative Trey Gowdy (R) says that, “[Clinton] and her lawyers [Cheryl Mills, David Kendall, and Heather Samuelson] had those emails deleted. And they didn’t just push the delete button; they had them deleted where even God can’t read them. They were using something called BleachBit. You don’t use BleachBit for yoga emails or bridemaids emails. When you’re using BleachBit, it is something you really do not want the world to see.”

160825BleachBitLogo

BleachBit Logo (Credit: public domain)

BleachBit is computer software whose website advertises that it can “prevent recovery” of files. Politico notes that if Gowdy is correct, this would be “further proof that Clinton had something to hide in deleting personal emails from the private email system she used during her tenure as secretary of state.” It is not explained how Gowdy might know this, but his comments come only a few days after the FBI gave raw materials about their Clinton email investigation to Congress. (Politico, 8/25/2016)

Gowdy’s claim contradicts what FBI Director James Comey said on July 5, 2016 when he announced that he would not recommend charging Clinton with any crime. At that time, Comey stated, “we found no evidence that any of the additional work-related emails were intentionally deleted in an effort to conceal them. Our assessment is that, like many email users, Secretary Clinton periodically deleted emails or emails were purged from the system when devices were changed.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 7/5/2016)

Within hours of Gowdy’s comments, BleachBit updates their website to say: “Last year when Clinton was asked about wiping her email server, she joked, ‘Like with a cloth or something?’ It turns out now that BleachBit was that cloth, according to remarks by Gowdy.” The website also notes, “As of the time of writing BleachBit has not been served a warrant or subpoena in relation to the investigation. … The cleaning process [of our program] is not reversible.” (BleachBit, 8/25/2016)

On September 2, 2016, the FBI’s final report on their Clinton email investigation will be released, and it will be revealed that BleachBit was used on Clinton’s server in late March 2015. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)

FBI Director Comey says it is unclear if any of Clinton’s emails were deleted by Clinton or anyone else.

At a Congressional hearing, FBI Director James Comey is asked by Representative Trey Gowdy (R), “Secretary Clinton said neither she nor anyone else deleted work-related emails from her personal account. Was that true?”

Comey answers, “That’s a harder one to answer. We found traces of work-related emails in — on devices or in slack space. Whether they were deleted or whether when the server was changed out, something happened to them. There’s no doubt that the work-related emails were removed electronically from the email system.” (Politico, 7/7/2016) (CNN, 7/7/2016)

However, in September 2016, the FBI Clinton investigation’s final report will be released, based entirely on information learned by the FBI prior to Comey’s testimony. That makes clear that in late March 2015, someone used a computer program called BleachBit to delete all of Clinton’s emails off her server and then wipe them to prevent their later recovery. It is unknown why Comey fails to mention this.

FBI Director Comey announces he will not recommend Clinton’s indictment on any charge, but he calls her “extremely careless” in handling highly classified information.

FBI Director James Comey announces his recommendation for Clinton and her aides on July 5, 2016. (Credit: Cliff Owen / The Associated Press)

FBI Director James Comey announces his recommendation in a press conference on July 5, 2016. (Credit: Cliff Owen / The Associated Press)

FBI Director James Comey gives a public speech in front of a group of reporters. The timing is surprising, since this brings an end to the FBI’s investigation of Clinton’s email practices, and just a Sunday and the Fourth of July holiday separate this from the FBI’s interview of Clinton on July 2, 2016. Comey spends most of his speech criticizing Clinton, but ends it by saying he will not recommend that the Justice Department pursue any indictment of Clinton or her aides.

Comey’s fifteen-minute speech includes the following information, in order, with key phrases bolded to assist in understanding.

Comey begins by describing the FBI investigation:

  • The investigation started with a referral from Intelligence Community Inspector General Charles McCullough, and “focused on whether classified information was transmitted” on Clinton’s personal email server during her time as secretary of state. It specifically “looked at whether there is evidence classified information was improperly stored or transmitted on that personal system, in violation of a federal statute making it a felony to mishandle classified information either intentionally or in a grossly negligent way, or a second statute making it a misdemeanor to knowingly remove classified information from appropriate systems or storage facilities.” The FBI “also investigated to determine whether there is evidence of computer intrusion in connection with the personal email server by any foreign power, or other hostile actors.”
  • The FBI found that Clinton “used several different servers and administrators of those servers during her four years at the State Department, and used numerous mobile devices to view and send email on that personal domain. As new servers and equipment were employed, older servers were taken out of service, stored, and decommissioned in various ways…”
  • The FBI analyzed the over 30,000 work emails that Clinton did turn over to the State Department in December 2014, working with other US government departments to determine which emails contained truly classified information at the time they were sent, and which ones were justifiably classified later.
  • James Comey (Credit: Fox News)

    James Comey (Credit: Fox News)

    From the group of 30,068 emails Clinton returned to the State Department, “110 emails in 52 email chains have been determined by the owning agency to contain classified information at the time they were sent or received. Eight of those chains contained information that was ‘top secret’ at the time they were sent; 36 chains contained ‘secret’ information at the time; and eight contained ‘confidential’ information, which is the lowest level of classification. Separate from those, about 2,000 additional emails were ‘up-classified’ to make them ‘confidential’; the information in those had not been classified at the time the emails were sent.”

  • It had previously been reported that the FBI had recovered most or all of the 31,830 emails that Clinton had deleted, allegedly because they contained personal information only. However, Comey reveals that was not the case, and thousands of emails were not recovered. He gives an example of how when one of Clinton’s servers was decommissioned in 2013, the email was removed and broken up into millions of fragments.
  • The FBI “discovered several thousand work-related emails” that were not included in the 30,068 emails Clinton returned to the State Department, even though Clinton claimed under oath that she had returned all her work-related emails. The FBI found these after they “had been deleted over the years and we found traces of them on devices that supported or were connected to the private email domain.” Others were found in the archived government email accounts of other government employees whom Clinton frequently communicated with. Still others were found “from the laborious review of the millions of email fragments” of the server decommissioned in 2013.
  • Out of these additional work emails, three were classified at the time they were sent or received – none at the ‘top secret’ level, one at the ‘secret’ level, and two at the ‘confidential’ level. None were found to have been deemed classified later.
  • Furthermore, Comey claims “we found no evidence that any of the additional work-related emails were intentionally deleted in an effort to conceal them. Our assessment is that, like many email users, Secretary Clinton periodically deleted emails or emails were purged from the system when devices were changed. Because she was not using a government account—or even a commercial account like Gmail—there was no archiving at all of her emails, so it is not surprising that we discovered emails that were not on Secretary Clinton’s system in 2014, when she produced the 30,000 emails to the State Department.”
  • 160705DeletingAttorneys

    The three Clinton attorneys who deleted emails are David Kendall (left), Cheryl Mills (center), and Heather Samuelson (right). (Credit: public domain)

    However, he also admits that “It could also be that some of the additional work-related emails we recovered were among those deleted as ‘personal’ by Secretary Clinton’s lawyers when they reviewed and sorted her emails for production in 2014.” He claims that the three lawyers who sorted the emails for Clinton in late 2014 (David Kendall, Cheryl Mills, and Heather Samuelson) “did not individually read the content of all of her emails…” Instead, they used keyword searches to determine which emails were work related, and it is “highly likely their search terms missed some work-related emails” that were later found by the FBI elsewhere.

  • Comey states it is “likely” that some emails may have disappeared forever. because Clinton’s three lawyers “deleted all emails they did not return to State, and the lawyers cleaned their devices in such a way as to preclude complete forensic recovery.” But he says that after interviews and technical examination, “we believe our investigation has been sufficient to give us reasonable confidence there was no intentional misconduct in connection with that sorting effort.”

Comey then begins stating his findings:

  • “Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”
  • As an example, he points out that “seven email chains concern matters that were classified at the ‘Top Secret/Special Access Program’ [TP/SAP] level when they were sent and received. These chains involved Secretary Clinton both sending emails about those matters and receiving emails from others about the same matters. There is evidence to support a conclusion that any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position, or in the position of those government employees with whom she was corresponding about these matters, should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation.”
  • He adds that it was a similar situation with emails classified at the “secret” level when they were sent, although he doesn’t specify how many.
  • He comments, “None of these emails should have been on any kind of unclassified system, but their presence is especially concerning because all of these emails were housed on unclassified personal servers not even supported by full-time security staff, like those found at departments and agencies of the US government—or even with a commercial service like Gmail.”
  • He notes that “only a very small number of the emails containing classified information bore markings indicating the presence of classified information. But even if information is not marked ‘classified’ in an email, participants who know or should know that the subject matter is classified are still obligated to protect it.”
  • He then criticizes the State Department as a whole. The FBI found evidence that “the security culture” of the State Department “was generally lacking in the kind of care for classified information found elsewhere in the government.” This was especially true regarding the use of unclassified email systems.
  • Then he addresses whether “hostile actors” were able to gain access to Clinton’s emails. Although no direct evidence of any successful hacking was found, he points out that “given the nature of the system and of the actors potentially involved, we assess that we would be unlikely to see such direct evidence. We do assess that hostile actors gained access to the private commercial email accounts of people with whom Secretary Clinton was in regular contact from her personal account. We also assess that Secretary Clinton’s use of a personal email domain was both known by a large number of people and readily apparent. She also used her personal email extensively while outside the United States, including sending and receiving work-related emails in the territory of sophisticated adversaries. Given that combination of factors, we assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal email account.”

After laying out the evidence of what the FBI found, Comey moves to the FBI’s recommendation to the Justice Department. He admits that it is highly unusual to publicly reveal the FBI’s recommendation, but “in this case, given the importance of the matter, I think unusual transparency is in order.”

James Comey (Credit: NPR)

James Comey (Credit: NPR)

Then he comes to these conclusions:

  • “Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case. Prosecutors necessarily weigh a number of factors before bringing charges. There are obvious considerations, like the strength of the evidence, especially regarding intent. Responsible decisions also consider the context of a person’s actions, and how similar situations have been handled in the past.”
  • To justify this decision, he claims he examined other cases involving the mishandling or removal of classified information, and “we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts. All the cases prosecuted involved some combination of clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information; or vast quantities of materials exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct; or indications of disloyalty to the United States; or efforts to obstruct justice. We do not see those things here.”
  • He then says, “To be clear, this is not to suggest that in similar circumstances, a person who engaged in this activity would face no consequences. To the contrary, those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions. But that is not what we are deciding now. As a result, although the Department of Justice makes final decisions on matters like this, we are expressing to Justice our view that no charges are appropriate in this case.”
  • He concludes by saying the FBI’s investigation was done competently, honestly, and independently, and without any kind of outside influence.

He doesn’t address the possibility of recommending the indictment of any of Clinton’s aides or other figures like Sid Blumenthal or Justin Cooper. He also doesn’t make any mention of the Clinton Foundation, though there have been media reports the FBI has been investigating it as well. After finishing his speech, he leaves without taking any questions from the media. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 7/5/2016)

Clinton tells the FBI she never knew her emails got deleted.

Clinton motions as she leaves the press conference joke and asking reporter Ed Henry, who had asked the question, whether she had meant if she wiped “with a cloth”

Clinton motions as she leaves a press conference in Las Vegas, NV, on August 18, 2015, where she jokes with reporter Ed Henry about wiping her server with a cloth. (Credit: David Becker / Reuters)

In late March 2015, Paul Combetta, an employee of Platte River Networks (PRN), deleted all of Clinton’s emails from her private server and then used a computer program to permanently wipe them. Two of Clinton’s lawyers, Cheryl Mills and David Kendall, had communications with Combetta in that time period, including speaking in a conference call in which he also participated just after the deletions were done, on March 31, 2015.

However, Clinton is interviewed by the FBI on this date, and the FBI will later report that “Clinton stated she was… unaware of the March 2015 email deletions by PRN.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)

Clinton’s claim is particularly surprising considering that in August 2015, it was reported that Clinton’s campaign had acknowledged “that there was an attempt to wipe [Clinton’s private] server before it was turned over last week to the FBI.” (NBC News, 8/19/2015)

The FBI recovers 302 previously lost Clinton emails from a Gmail account; two of them were deemed classified when they were sent.

In February 2014, an unnamed Platte River Networks (PRN) employee created a Gmail email account and briefly transferred all of Clinton’s emails into it from a back-up of Clinton’s server made in the spring of 2013. He transferred the Clinton emails to a new version of this server, but most of the emails on this server will later be destroyed. He also will tell the FBI that he deleted all of the emails from his Gmail account after completing the transfer.

However, the FBI will later report that on June 21, 2016, FBI investigators discovered 940 Clinton emails that were still on the Gmail account somehow. It has not been explained if the PRN employee simply failed to delete them all or if deleted emails were recovered.

All of the 940 emails date from October 25, 2010 to December 31, 2010. 56 of them were later deemed to be classified at the “confidential” level. 302 of them were not in the over 30,000 emails that Clinton gave to the State Department in December 2014. It has not been specified how many of these were deemed work-related. But of the 302 emails, the FBI gave 18 of them to other departments to for classification review. The State Department decided one email was classified “secret” when it was sent, but then later was downgraded to “confidential.” Another email was “confidential” when it was sent and later downgraded to be unclassified. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)