Platte River Networks (PRN)

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)

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)

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)

Internet sleuths discover many similarities between Paul Combetta and ‘stonetear’

In the hours following the discovery of the “stonetear” Reddit account, internet sleuths discover the following reasons “stonetear” is an online alias for PRN employee Paul Combetta:

1. On July 24, 2014stonetear’ posted a request for help on Reddit, asking for help stripping the email address from a VIP’s (VERY VIP) client’s archived emails. The day before, Clinton’s lawyers sent some of Clinton’s emails so they could begin sorting them.

2. On December 10, 2014, ‘stonetear’ asked for advice from Reddit users on how to implement a 60-day email “purge” policy. It is also reportedly near the same time that Clinton told her lawyer Cheryl Mills she didn’t need her “personal” emails, resulting in Mills telling those managing Clinton’s server to delete them.

Another sample captured of Combetta as 'stonetear' asking Reddit users for help. (Credit: Reddit)

Another sample captured of Combetta as ‘stonetear’ asking Reddit users for help. (Credit: Reddit)

3. The inactive website combetta.com is registered to the email address stonetear@gmail.com in a search of domain registration information using the service whois.com.

4. This Facebook photo is captioned by a friend of Combetta and refers to him as “Stone Tear.”

Paul Combetta is referred to as "Stonetear" by a friend in this FB photo. (Credit: Facebook)

Paul Combetta is referred to as “Stonetear” by a friend in this FB photo. (Credit: Facebook)

5. An account for a person named Paul Combetta on the web bazaar Etsy also has the username ‘stonetear.’

6. Platte River Networks (PRN) has stated Combetta is their only employee who lives in Rhode Island.  ‘Stonetear’  claims to live in Rhode Island in his posts on Reddit.

7. A website publicizing a help file for the video game Betrayal at Krondor thanks Combetta and shows his email address is stonetear@gmail.com

A photo capture from the website Krondor, thanking Combetta for his help with an internet game and includes stonetear@gmail.com as his email address. (Credit: public domain)

8. Moreover, Stonetear@gmail.com has a Google Account profile picture that looks like Combetta.

A captured shot of Combetta’s ‘stonetear’ Gmail account with photo included. (Credit: public domain)

FBI Director James Comey will later confirm that Paul Combetta is “stonetear” in his testimony to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on September 28, 2016.  (CSpan 01:27:39, 09/28/2016)

(US News & World Report, 09/19/2016), (Vice News, 09/19/2016)

Paul Combetta is recorded deleting his Reddit posts.

A photo captured of Combetta deleting his posts on Reddit, as it was happening. (Credit: updatedblubber)

YouTube member “updatedblubber” posts a video claiming it is a live recording of Platte River Networks (PRN) employee Paul Combetta deleting ‘stonetear’s posts on Reddit.  The deletion occurs in the morning of September 19, 2016, within hours after news that the Reddit posts of “stonetear” really belong to Combetta break into the mainstream.

Later on the same day, Representative Lamar Smith (R), chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, writes a letter to PRN attorney Ken Eichner, expressing his concern about the deletion of the Reddit posts. Smith adds, “Given these concerns, the committee requests that you provide dates for the prioritized interview requests, as well as dates for the remaining Platte River Networks employees, by noon on Friday, September 23, 2016. If you fail to provide dates certain for each of the transcribed interviews, the committee will consider issuing subpoenas for depositions.” (YouTube, 09/19/16) (Representative Lamar Smith, 09/19/16)

Internet sleuths discover social media posts by the manager of Clinton’s server that could impact the investigation of Clinton’s email usage.

Katica@GOPpollanalyst (Credit: Twitter)

Katica@GOPpollanalyst (Credit: Twitter)

On September 16, 2016, Twitter user Katica@GOPpollanalyst sends a message to Jeffrey Marty via his Twitter page which is a parody account for a fictitious congressional member named Rep. Steven Smith@RepStevenSmith. Katica had recently discovered posts to the Internet forum Reddit by someone using the name “stonetear,” and had deduced through various clues that this person actually is Paul Combetta, the Platte River Networks (PRN) employee who has managed Clinton’s private server since June 2013.

Katica then sends Marty a copy of stonetear’s Reddit post that was written on July 24, 2014, and includes a request for advice about “stripping out” the email address of a “VERY VIP” email account.

A photo of stonetears request for help on July 24, 2016, captured by Redditors. (Credit: Katica / Twitter)

A photo of stonetear’s request for help on July 24, 2016, found by Katica and later archived by Redditors. (Credit: Katica / Twitter)

Marty replies, “NO WAY!!!!! That’s HUGE.”

Jeffrey Marty (Credit: Daily Caller)

Jeffrey Marty (Credit: Daily Caller)

Marty will later explain in a news article, “After a lot of discussion about the potential fallout of this decision, Katica and I decided the ‘stonetear’ information had to be released.  Late Sunday night [September 18, 2016], we tweeted the (then-live) short link to the Reddit ‘VERY VIP’ post and four screenshots to Katica’s 2,000 followers, followed by an immediate re-tweet of her post to my 16,000 followers.”

Many interested people then begin finding and archiving all of Combetta’s Reddit posts, as well as other traces he’d left on the Internet using the “stonetear” alias. In the process, more evidence is found that “stonetear” and Paul Combetta are one and the same.

Within hours after the story breaking in various media outlets, including US News and World Report, “stonetear” is caught deleting all of his Reddit posts. The deletions are captured on video as they happen and are posted to YouTube. By September 20, 2016, a Congressional committee demands Combetta submit to recorded interviews by September 23, 2016 to explain these Reddit posts, as well as the deletions, or he will face another subpoena. (Daily Caller, 09/22/16)

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.

A Congressperson alleges that Clinton is responsible for a computer company not complying with a Congressional subpoena related to Clinton’s private server.

On September 12, 2016, a deadline to respond to a subpoena issued by a Congressional committee passed. Three companies involved in the management of Clinton’s private server had been given the subpoena, and one – Datto, Inc. – responded in time with documents, while the other two – Platte River Networks (PRN) and SECNAP, Inc.  – did not.

The next day, Representative Lamar Smith (R) comments in a related Congressional hearing, “just this morning… SECNAP’s [legal] counsel confirmed to my staff that the Clinton’s private LLC [Clinton Executive Service Corp.] is actively engaged in directing their obstructionist responses to Congressional subpoenas.” (US Congress, 9/13/2016)

Clinton’s lawyer will later confirm that he is prohibiting SECNAP from fully complying with a subpoena.

Representative Gowdy says the FBI “gave immunity to the very person you would most want to prosecute.”

Trey Gowdy appears on Fox News on September 10, 2016 to discuss the immunity deal. (Credit: Fox News)

On September 09, 2016, Trey Gowdy appears on Fox News with Martha MacCallum to discuss the immunity deal given to Paul Combetta. (Credit: Fox News)

Representative Trey Gowdy (R) comments about a New York Times article from the day before that revealed Platte River Networks employee Paul Combetta was not only the person who deleted and wiped Clinton’s emails, but was the person who got an immunity deal from the FBI.

Gowdy says there are two types of immunity Combetta could have received: use and transactional. “If the FBI and the Department of Justice gave this witness transactional immunity, it is tantamount to giving the triggerman immunity in a robbery case.”

Gowdy, who is a former federal prosecutor, says that Combetta “destroyed official public records” despite a subpoena and preservation order from lawmakers for the documents. He adds that he is “stunned” because “It looks like they gave immunity to the very person you would most want to prosecute.” (Fox News, 9/9/2016)

Congressional committees order five people involved with the management of Clinton’s private server to speak in a public hearing.

Representative Jason Chaffetz (R), the chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, orders two Platte River Networks (PRN) employees and three others to testify before a Congressional hearing, on September 13, 2016. PRN is the company that managed Clinton’s private server. The following people are ordered to appear:

Those subpoenaed to appear before the House Oversight committee are from left to right: Paul Combetta, Bryan Pagliano, Justin Cooper and Alex McChord and Bill Thornton. (Credits: public domain)

  • Paul Combetta. He is a PRN employee. On September 8, 2016, the New York Times revealed that Combetta deleted and wiped Clinton’s emails from her private server, and he also got an immunity deal from the Justice Department as part of the FBI’s Clinton email investigation. Congressional committees issued subpoenas for PRN interviews on August 22, 2016, after asking without coersion since September 2015.
  • Bill Thornton. He also is a PRN employee. The FBI’s final report indicated  two PRN employees worked on Clinton’s server, so it seems probable he is the other one.
  • Bryan Pagliano. He managed Clinton’s server until PRN took over. He was previously subpoenaed by the House Committee on Benghazi, but he pleaded the Fifth. However, he cooperated with the FBI after also getting an immunity deal.
  • Justin Cooper. He is a member of Bill Clinton’s staff and helped Pagliano manage the server.
  • Austin McChord. He is CEO of Datto, Inc. PRN subcontracted Datto to make back-up copies of the server. (The Wall Street Journal, 9/9/2016) (US Congress, 9/9/2016)