Senate Republicans are threatening legal recourse against a State Department IT official who has refused to answer their questions about Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonTrump clamps down on federal agencies Mellman: First things first? Dems indignant as Comey keeps his job MORE’s private email server.
The leaders of the Senate Judiciary and Homeland Security committees earlier this month told the official, John Bentel, that he was “an integral figure” in the State Department and should be able to answer questions about the unusual setup that Clinton used while serving as secretary of State.
“In order to properly exercise our constitutional oversight functions, we need to speak to you,” Sens. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyTrump huddles with Senate leaders ahead of Supreme Court battle Trump to announce Supreme Court pick next week Trump, Senate leaders to huddle on Supreme Court MORE (R-Iowa) and Ron JohnsonRon JohnsonLive coverage: Trump budget chief faces two Senate panels Overnight Healthcare: GOP governors defend Medicaid expansion GOP senator: Let's work with Dems to 'fix' ObamaCare MORE (R-Wis.) wrote to Bentel’s lawyer. The letter was sent on March 4 but released on Monday.
The lawmakers said that they would prefer a “voluntary and informal” meeting, but “we will consider other options if faced with a continuing lack of cooperation," potentially referring to a subpoena.
Bentel was the director of information resource management in the State Department’s Office of Executive Secretariat, and as such “may have specific knowledge relating to Secretary Clinton’s private server and email arrangement,” the lawmakers wrote. They suggested he also could talk about IT issues connected to the BlackBerry that Clinton used while in office.
Another State Department IT official, Bryan Pagliano, had previously refused to comply with Republican lawmakers’ efforts to interview him.
Earlier this month, however, news leaked that he had struck a deal for immunity in the Justice Department probe connected to Clinton’s email server. Following that report, which Attorney General Loretta Lynch has refused to discuss, Grassley and Johnson reached out to Pagliano to encourage him to testify on Capitol Hill.
Clinton, who is now the Democratic presidential front-runner, has repeatedly called the use of a private server a “mistake,” though she denies breaking any laws.
Bentel had previously voluntarily answered questions in the House’s Select Committee on Benghazi, Grassley and Johnson noted in their letter.
Staffers on the Judiciary Committee reached out to Bentel’s lawyer in December, lawmakers claimed, but were rebuffed.
In a response quoted in this month’s letter, his lawyer, Randall Turk, told lawmakers that Bentel had “no memory or knowledge” of the issues he was questioned about and that there is “little point” in going through the process again.
However, the senators’ probe is focused squarely on Clinton’s email server, lawmakers insisted, and questions “would most certainly be different from the Benghazi Committee.”
This story was updated at 1:20 p.m. to reflect that Republicans are considering legal recourse against John Bentel if he refuses to answer their questions. A previous version contained incorrect information.