After staying out of the fray for months, Senate Republicans have stepped forcefully into battle with Hillary Clinton.

Her former colleagues — Clinton served as a New York senator from 2001 to 2009 — have not wielded their oversight authority with the same zeal as their House counterparts in regards to the 2016 hopeful’s tenure at the State Department.

{mosads}That is beginning to change now that her use of a private email server has become a major topic on the campaign trail, sparking regular battles with the press and eroding her favorability rating. 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) on Tuesday called for a special counsel to investigate Clinton’s use of a private email server, telling reporters the former secretary of State “intentionally evaded” freedom of information laws and national security protections.

A day earlier, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the chairmen of the Judiciary and Homeland Security panels, respectively, called for a senior State Department official to meet with them to discuss Clinton’s email as well as the role a former Clinton campaign operative played in her private system.

Senate Republicans kept their distance from the House GOP’s probe of the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, which several sources from the upper chamber privately discounted as a wild goose chase unlikely to yield much actionable intelligence.

But they view Clinton’s use of a private email server to store documents containing highly classified information as a potent issue that could roil next year’s presidential race, and the moves by Cornyn, Grassley and Johnson show they are staking their claim to the issue.

“It’s important because there are a lot of laws that are already on the books that were violated by Secretary Clinton setting up this private email server, circumventing freedom of information laws, government classification and national security protections. All of these were intentionally evaded by design by the secretary,” Cornyn told reporters on Tuesday.

Clinton is dismissive of the GOP effort, which her campaign team sees as pure politics.

“Now that the Justice Department has confirmed that Hillary Clinton did nothing wrong in choosing to delete her personal emails, Republicans in Congress are flailing to sustain their partisan attacks on this issue,” Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon said in an email, referring to court documents filed by Justice last week in response to a Judicial Watch lawsuit.

Republicans believe the email controversy is resonating with voters.

While she remains the favorite to win the Democratic presidential nomination, Clinton now trails opponent Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, which host the primary season’s first two contests.

Vice President Biden is mulling a challenge to Clinton, and an analysis by The New York Times finds that her approval rating is lower than at any point during her 2008 campaign and is slipping even with Democrats.

Senate investigators want to know who at the State Department knew of Clinton’s use of the private server, when they learned of it and who — other than Clinton — approved of the unorthodox setup.

They’re also focused on the role of Bryan Pagliano, an employee of Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign who was given a job as a senior civil servant at the State Department and was paid by Clinton personally to maintain her private server in addition to his official duties.

It appears the server he maintained while at State was the same box he used to store her private information while she campaigned for president.

In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, Grassley and Johnson want to know if senior department officials were aware Pagliano was getting paid for outside work in addition to his compensation as a full-time government employee.

They want to know who, if anyone, disclosed the financial arrangement to the department and if it complied with federal regulations on extra income.

Pagliano has invoked the Fifth Amendment to spare himself from possible self-incrimination, prompting Grassley and Johnson to ask Attorney General Loretta Lynch to give him immunity from prosecution so they can get his cooperation.

They’ve requested a private interview with Steven Taylor, State’s chief information officer and Pagliano’s former supervisor, to gain insight into Clinton’s email practices.

Grassley’s role stems from the inquiry he launched in 2013 into a special designation received by Huma Abedin, who was then Clinton’s deputy chief of staff, allowing her to work for a private consultant while serving as a special adviser to the State Department.

Senate investigators want all records related to Pagliano’s communications with Clinton and her senior advisers, including Abedin and Cheryl Mills, who has already testified to the House Select Committee on Benghazi about the email server.

Johnson got involved in March when he co-authored a letter to the State Department’s inspector general, Steve Linick, requesting an audit of electronic communications by the department’s employees.

Senate Republicans initially used softer language in April, when Grassley said Clinton’s use of the private server “probably” violated the Freedom of Information Act. Cornyn at the time only asked for the State Department’s inspector general to investigate whether Clinton violated the law.

Now Cornyn says it’s clear she broke the law intentionally and says whether Lynch appoints a special counsel will serve as a major test of her impartiality.  

“My reading of the law is that it’s not allowed under current law and of course any revelation of classified materials has serious national security consequences,” he added. 

He said that Lynch “has a real opportunity to restore the integrity and reputation of the Department” of Justice.

Senate investigators will determine their next steps after Kerry and Lynch respond to their requests.

Cornyn said future options may include moving legislation to prevent administration officials from using private servers to circumvent the Freedom of Information Act.

“Whether or not additional legislation needs to be passed or whether we just need to see enforcement of current laws remains to be seen,” he said.

Tags Bernie Sanders Chuck Grassley Hillary Clinton John Cornyn John Kerry Ron Johnson

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