Paul Combetta

August 22, 2019 – A federal judge criticizes State and Justice departments on Clinton email cover-up; gives Clinton and Mills 30 days to oppose being deposed

(Credit: Judicial Watch)

“Judicial Watch released the transcript today from their hearing on Thursday, August 22, 2019, where U.S. District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth granted significant new discovery to Judicial Watch on the Clinton email issue (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:14-cv-01242)).

During the hearing, Judge Lamberth specifically raised concerns about a Clinton email cache recently discussed in a letter to Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) and wants Judicial Watch to “shake this tree” on this issue.

[J]ust last week, the Senate’s – Senate Finance and Homeland Security Committees released documents revealing that Clinton IT aide Paul Combetta copied all but four of the missing emails to a Gmail account that does not appear to have ever been reconstructed and searched. The court thinks Judicial Watch ought to shake this tree. 

Judge Lamberth also criticized the State Department’s handling and production of Clinton’s emails in this case stating, “There is no FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] exemption for political expedience, nor is there one for bureaucratic incompetence.” 

At the beginning of their oral arguments, lawyers for the State Department wrongfully stated that Judicial Watch could no longer continue their discovery. The court stopped their arguments saying that Judicial Watch can continue to find more evidence in this case:

Judge Royce C. Lamberth (Credit: Charles Dharapak/The Associated Press)

STATE DEPARTMENT: … it is, of course, Judicial Watch’s burden to explain to Your Honor why there has been good cause to reopen discovery now that discovery has closed in this case.

THE COURT: Well, I didn’t close discovery. So your premise is wrong.

STATE DEPARTMENT: Fair enough, Your Honor. Whether you want to call it closed or not, it is still —

THE COURT: I didn’t close it. I said I would have a status after they took this initial discovery, and that’s what I’m doing today. I didn’t close discovery.

STATE DEPARTMENT: That’s right, Your Honor, but it is still Judicial Watch’s —

THE COURT: So they don’t need any good cause —

STATE DEPARTMENT: Whether

THE COURT: — Today the good cause continues from whether or not State was acting in good faith, and I’ll tell you everything they’ve discovered in this period raises serious questions about what the hell the State Department’s doing here.

The court rejected DOJ and State efforts to derail further Judicial Watch discovery. Judge Lamberth called their arguments “preposterous” and cited a prior Judicial Watch FOIA case in which he ordered U.S. Marshals to seize records from a Clinton administration official.

I’ll tell you another thing I didn’t like in your brief. I’ll tell you right now upfront. You put in your brief the most preposterous thing, I thought, in your brief was the very idea that — let me read you the line. Competitive Enterprise Institute was a case of first impression and that some District Judge bought that and the Court of Appeals reversed it. Now, that wasn’t a case of first impression at all. The first impression with me was a case I had involving Ron Brown and the travel records of whether or not, in the Commerce Department — and it was a Judicial Watch case — whether or not the Commerce Department was selling seats on trade missions, and I had a Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce who took a box of records home and then they gave a no-records response and, in the course of that, I found out he had taken the records home and they said they had no records.  I sent marshals over and they got the box at his house, and I ordered them – the marshals — to seize the records. That was the first case.

The Judge also stated that the government has mishandled this case and the discovery of information including former Secretary Clinton’s emails so poorly that Judicial Watch may have the ability to prove they acted in “bad faith,” which would entitle them to attorney’s fees.

Judge Lamberth detailed how the State Department “spent three months from November 2014 trying to make this case disappear,” and that after discovering the State Department’s actions and omissions, “Now we know more, but we have even more questions than answers. So I won’t hold it against Judicial Watch for expanding their initial discovery request now.”

Judge Lamberth stated his goal was to restore the public’s faith in their government, which may have been damaged because of the Clinton email investigation:

When I authorized discovery back in December, I described my goal: to rule out egregious government misconduct and vindicate the public’s faith in the State and Justice Departments. That’s still my goal today. This isn’t a case I relish, but it’s the case before me now, and it’s a case of the government’s making.”

The court granted Judicial Watch seven additional depositions, three interrogatories and four document requests related to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. Hillary Clinton and her former top aide and current lawyer Cheryl Mills were given 30 days to oppose being deposed by Judicial Watch.

Below is the court’s ruling from the bench granting Judicial Watch’s significant new discovery:”

(Read more: Judicial Watch, 9/06/2019)

Former Attorney General Mukasey claims Comey is in a no-win situation due to his earlier failure to pursue a vigorous Clinton email investigation.

Michael Mukasey (Credit: The Associated Press)

Michael Mukasey (Credit: The Associated Press)

Michael Mukasey, the US attorney general from 2007 to 2009, writes an editorial in the Wall Street Journal with the title: “The FBI Director’s Dishonorable Choice.”

He suggests that FBI Director James Comey’s recent highly controversial reopening of the FBI’s Clinton email investigation shortly before the 2016 US presidential election is due to earlier mistakes Comey made in the investigation.

“Recall that Mr. Comey’s authority extends only to supervising the gathering of facts to be presented to Justice Department lawyers for their confidential determination of whether those facts justify a federal prosecution. Nonetheless, in July [2016] he announced that ‘no reasonable prosecutor’ would seek to charge her with a crime, although Mrs. Clinton had classified information on a private non-secure server—at least a misdemeanor under one statute; and although she was ‘extremely careless’ in her handling of classified information such that it was exposed to hacking by hostile foreign nations—a felony under another statute; and apparently had caused the destruction of emails—a felony under two other statutes.”

He continues, “Those decisions were not his to make, nor were the reasons he offered for making them at all tenable: that prosecutions for anything but mishandling large amounts of classified information, accompanied by false statements to investigators, were unprecedented; and that criminal prosecutions for gross negligence were constitutionally suspect.”

He also points to immunity deals made with key suspects that even included destroying their computers after limited searches, and a failure to get to the bottom of computer technician Paul Combetta’s destruction of Clinton’s emails in March 2015, supposedly done entirely on his own for no clear motive. “Why would an FBI director, who at one time was an able and aggressive prosecutor, agree to such terms or accept such a fantastic story?”

He also claims that emails between President Obama and Clinton on her private server suggested that “if Mrs. Clinton was at criminal risk for communicating on her non-secure system, so was [Obama].” The FBI needs the cooperation of a grand jury, and only the legal authority of a grand jury would give the FBI subpoena power to conduct a real investigation. If Attorney General Loretta Lynch refused to allow a grand jury, Comey “could have gone public with his request, and threatened to resign if it was not followed. … Instead, Mr. Comey acceded to the apparent wish of President Obama that no charges be brought.”

That lack of courage put Comey in his no-win situation when more evidence happened to come to light shortly before Election Day. (The Wall Street Journal, 10/30/2016)

An unnamed high-ranking FBI official claims that the “vast majority” of agents working on the FBI’s Clinton email investigation believe Clinton should have been indicted.

The “high-ranking FBI official” speaks to Fox News on the condition of anonymity, but the person’s “identity and role in the case has been verified by FoxNews.com.” According to this source, “No trial level attorney agreed, no agent working the case agreed, with the decision not to prosecute” anyone in the investigation at all, but “it was a top-down decision” by FBI Director James Comey.

The source says that when it came to Clinton specifically, “It is safe to say the vast majority felt she should be prosecuted. We were floored while listening to the FBI briefing [on July 5, 2016] because Comey laid it all out, and then said ‘but we are doing nothing,’ which made no sense to us.” And while it might not have been a totally unanimous decision to recommend Clinton’s indictment, “It was unanimous that we all wanted her [Clinton’s] security clearance yanked.” However, even that never happened, despite it being standard procedure in similar cases.

The source adds that FBI agents were particularly upset that Comey unilaterally made the decision not to indict when the FBI’s role is merely to present an investigative report to the Justice Department. “Basically, James Comey hijacked the [Justice Department]’s role by saying ‘no reasonable prosecutor would bring this case.’ The FBI does not decide who to prosecute and when, that is the sole province of a prosecutor. … I know zero prosecutors in the [Justice Department]’s National Security Division who would not have taken the case to a grand jury. One was never even convened.” Without a grand jury, FBI agents were not allowed to issue subpoenas or search warrants and could only request evidence and interviews.

The source also complains that the FBI required its agents and analysts involved in the investigation to sign non-disclosure agreements. “This is unheard of, because of the stifling nature it has on the investigative process.”

Furthermore, immunity deals were made with five key figures in the investigation: Cheryl Mills, Bryan Pagliano, Paul Combetta, John Bentel, and Heather Samuelson. The source says none of them should have been granted immunity if no charges were being brought. “[Immunity] is issued because you know someone possesses evidence you need to charge the target, and you almost always know what it is they possess. That’s why you give immunity. … Mills and Samuelson receiving immunity with the agreement their laptops would be destroyed by the FBI afterwards is, in itself, illegal. We know those laptops contained classified information. That’s also illegal, and they got a pass.”

Additionally, “Mills was allowed to sit in on the interview of Clinton as her lawyer. That’s absurd. Someone who is supposedly cooperating against the target of an investigation [being] permitted to sit by the target as counsel violates any semblance of ethical responsibility.”

The source also comments, “Every agent and attorney I have spoken to is embarrassed and has lost total respect for James Comey and [Attorney General] Loretta Lynch. The bar for [the Justice Department] is whether the evidence supports a case for charges — it did here. It should have been taken to the grand jury.”

Finally, the source claims that many in the FBI and the Justice Department believe Comey and Lynch were motivated by ambition instead of justice. “Loretta Lynch simply wants to stay on as attorney general under Clinton, so there is no way she would indict. James Comey thought his position [heavily criticizing Clinton even as he decides against indicting her] gave himself cover to remain on as director regardless of who wins.”

Andrew Napolitano (Credit: Fox News)

Andrew Napolitano (Credit: Fox News)

Andrew Napolitano, a former judge and judicial analyst for Fox News, also claims to know of many law enforcement agents involved with the Clinton email investigation who have similar beliefs. He says, “It is well known that the FBI agents on the ground, the human beings who did the investigative work, had built an extremely strong case against Hillary Clinton and were furious when the case did not move forward. They believe the decision not to prosecute came from the White House.” (Fox News, 10/12/2016)

The next day, Malia Zimmerman, a co-writer of the article, is questioned on Fox News television. She claims that she has been speaking to other disgruntled FBI agents as well. “They’re saying that the morale is very low and that a lot of them are looking for other jobs. They’re very disappointed. They feel like the agency has been polluted… and they’re embarrassed. They feel like they’ve been betrayed.”

She adds that some of her sources might be willing to speak on the record if they retire or change jobs, which some of them are in the process of doing. But they are currently worried about retaliation. “There are a lot of disgruntled agents, analysts, and [Justice Department] attorneys as well.” These people feel Clinton could have been charged for various reasons, but her 22 “top secret” emails made the most compelling case. (Fox News, 10/13/2016)

The Justice Department allegedly made immunity side deals that ordered the destruction of key evidence and limited what the FBI could search.

Devin Nunes (Credit: public domain)

Devin Nunes (Credit: public domain)

The chairs of several House and Senate committees write a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, with questions about the limitations the Justice Department placed on the investigation of Clinton’s private server. The signatories of this letter are: House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz (R), Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R), House Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte (R), and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes (R).

According to the letter, recently released documents suggest the department, “agreed to substantial and inappropriate limitations on the scope of [the FBI’s Clinton email] investigation.” The restrictions were discovered in the course of the committees’ review of the immunity agreements for former Clinton staffers Cheryl Mills and Heather Samuelson.

Here are some key excerpts from the letter:

  • “We write to express our concerns about the process by which Congress was allowed to view the [Beth] Wilkinson letters, that the letters inappropriately restrict the scope of the FBI’s investigation, and that the FBI inexplicably agreed to destroy the laptops knowing that the contents were the subject of Congressional subpoenas and preservation letters.” (Wilkinson is the lawyer to both Mills and Samuelson.)
  • “These limitations would necessarily have excluded, for example, any emails from Cheryl Mills to [Platte River Networks employee] Paul Combetta in late 2014 or early 2015 directing the destruction or concealment of federal records. Similarly, these limitations would have excluded any email sent or received by Secretary Clinton if it was not sent or received by one of the four email addresses listed, or the email address was altered.”
  • “Further, the Wilkinson letters memorialized the FBI’s agreement to destroy the laptops. This is simply astonishing given the likelihood that evidence on the laptops would be of interest to congressional investigators.”
  • “The Wilkinson letters raise serious questions about why [the Justice Department] would consent to such substantial limitations on the scope of its investigation, and how Director Comey’s statements on the scope of the investigation comport with the reality of what the FBI was permitted to investigate.”

In closing, so that the committee chairs can better understand the DOJ’s basis for agreeing to these restrictions, the letter includes eleven questions for Loretta Lynch, and answers must be submitted no later than October 19, 2016. (US Congress, 10/05/2016)

FBI Director James Comey thinks Paul Combetta is the Reddit user “stonetear.”

Representative Steve King (Credit: Charlie Neibergall / The Associated Press)

Representative Steve King (Credit: Charlie Neibergall / The Associated Press)

FBI Director James Comey says he thinks Paul Combetta, the Platte River Networks employee who helped manage Clinton’s private server, is the Reddit user “stonetear.” In a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee public hearing, Comey is asked by Representative Steve King (R), “Listening in the exchange between yourself and [Representative Darrell] Issa, I would just like to confirm that you were confirming that Mr. Combetta made the Reddit posts?”

Comey replies, “I’m not confirming it. I think he did, it is my understanding. That’s my understanding, I think he did. I haven’t dug into it myself. I’ve been focused on other things as we’ve been talking about, but I think that’s right.” (CSpan 01:27:39, 09/28/2016)

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)

Comey isn’t sure if the FBI was aware of Paul Combetta’s Reddit posts and won’t comment if Combetta committed a crime by deleting them.

When FBI Director James Comey answers questions before a House Judiciary Committee public hearing, two of the committee members ask him key questions about Paul Combetta, the Platte River Networks (PRN) employee who helped manage Clinton’s private server.

Darrell Issa (Credit: Jeff Malet)

Darrell Issa (Credit: Jeff Malet)

Representative Darrell Issa (R) asks: “Director, I have a lot of concerns but one of them refers to Reddit. At the time that the Department of Justice at your behest, or your involvement, gave Paul Combetta immunity, did you do so knowing about all of the posts he had on Reddit…?”

Comey replies: “I am not sure sitting here. My recollection is and I’ll check this and fix it if I am wrong, that we had some awareness of the Reddit posts, I don’t know whether our folks had read them all or not. We had a pretty good understanding of what we thought he had done, but that is my best recollection.”

Issa then asks: “OK, in the last week, [Combetta] has been deleting [his] Reddit posts. Is that consistent with preserving evidence? … You know, I guess my question to you is, is he destroying evidence relevant to Congressional inquiries? And I will answer it for you: yes he is. And what are you going to do about it?”

Comey answers, “That’s not something I can comment on.”

Bob Goodlatte (Credit: Jacquelyn Martin / The Associated Press)

Bob Goodlatte (Credit: Jacquelyn Martin / The Associated Press)

Later in the same hearing, committee chair Representative Bob Goodlatte (R), similarly asks: “Paul Combetta, with PRN, posted to Reddit, asking how to strip out a VIP’s, very VIP email address from a bunch of archived email. … This clearly demonstrates actions taken to destroy evidence by those operating Sec Clinton’s private server and by her staff.  … [W]as the FBI aware of this Reddit post prior to offering Mr. Combetta immunity on May 3, 2016?”

Comey responds, “I am not sure. I know that our team looked at it. I don’t know whether they knew about it before then or not.” (House Judiciary Committee, 09/28/2016)

Three more people were given immunity deals in the FBI’s Clinton investigation.

Representative Jason Chaffetz (R), chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, claims the Justice Department was “handing out immunity deals like candy” in the Clinton email investigation. Chaffetz claims the Justice Department “exempted key physical evidence from any potential criminal case against the aides.”

According to Chaffetz, three former Clinton aides – Cheryl Mills, Heather Samuelson, and John Bentel – were granted immunity deals in exchange for their cooperation. Mills was Clinton’s chief of staff and then has been one of her lawyers  Samuelson was a State Department aide and then also has been a Clinton lawyer. Bentel was director of the department’s Office of Information Resources Management (IRM).

The Justice Department provided copies of the immunity agreements to the House Oversight Committee this week, under seal. The information was then leaked to the Associated Press.

Mills “gave federal investigators access to her laptop on the condition that what they found couldn’t be used against her.” It is believed the same happened to Samuelson. Bentel apparently refused to be interviewed by the FBI until he got an immunity deal.

This brings the total number of people who were granted immunity as part of the FBI’s investigation to at least five. It has previously been reported that Bryan Pagliano and Paul Combetta were given immunity for their cooperation with the FBI. (The Associated Press, 09/23/16)

Congressional Republicans press for more documents from the FBI’s Clinton investigation.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee holds a classified hearing with Peter Kadzik, the Justice Department’s assistant attorney general for legislative affairs, to discuss document requests. Although the hearing is held behind closed doors, Politico will report on what takes place several days later.

Peter Kadzik (Credit: Molly Riley / The Associated Press)

Peter Kadzik (Credit: Molly Riley / The Associated Press)

Republicans believe the hearing is necessary because their request for a completely unredacted copy of the FBI’s Clinton investigation report has gone unanswered. They also have questions about the immunity deals the department handed out during the Clinton email investigation, and want to know who else besides Bryan Pagliano and Paul Combetta (both managers of Clinton’s private servers) received legal protection, who agreed to the immunity deals, and whether the deals require recipients to cooperate with other investigative bodies.

Politico writes, “Kadzik wouldn’t say. A Democratic source said he could not answer the questions because Republicans had only asked for the information a few hours earlier in a letter to the Justice Department, and the answers weren’t fully researched.”

Kadzik’s refusal to answer their questions doesn’t go over well with Republicans, and according to one Republican source, “the meeting deteriorate[s] from there.” Another Republican threatens a public hearing where Kadzik would have to testify if he fails to provide the information requested, and in effect dares him to say that “Congress [isn’t] entitled to it.”

The Justice Department will deliver the unredacted copies of the immunity agreements for Pagliano and Combetta on September 22, 2016, and the immunity agreements for former State Department officials Cheryl Mills, Heather Samuelson, and John Bentel will be provided the following day. (Politico, 09/23/2016)

A House panel is looking into Combetta’s post about Clinton’s email server.

Representative Mark Meadows (Credit: public domain)

Representative Mark Meadows (Credit: public domain)

Representative Mark Meadows (R) of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is reviewing a Reddit post that suggests an IT (Internet technology) specialist who worked on Hillary Clinton’s private server  asked for advice on how to alter the contents of “VERY VIP” emails. Meadows is the chairman of the panel’s Government Operations subcommittee.

Reddit users uncovered a two-year-old post from an account they believe belongs to Paul Combetta, a Platte River Networks employee who helped manage Clinton’s private server. Meadows says, “the Reddit post issue and its connection to Paul Combetta is currently being reviewed by [my] staff and evaluations are being made as to the authenticity of the post. If it is determined that the request to change email addresses was made by someone so closely aligned with the Secretary’s IT operation as Mr. Combetta, then it will certainly prompt additional inquiry.”

Representative Jason Chaffetz (R), chair of the same House committee, has issued a criminal referral to the US attorney for the District of Columbia. The referral asks that the Justice Department investigate whether Clinton or her aides were involved in the decision to delete the emails while they were under subpoena and a request for preservation of records. (The Hill, 09/19/16)