Oversight panel zeroes in on deletion of Clinton emails

The House Oversight Committee is ramping up its investigation of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck The Memo: All eyes on faltering Biden ahead of first debate Trump says he's not prepared to lose in 2020 MORE’s emails over the vociferous objections of Democrats. 

The panel is on track to hold three hearings in five days on issues related to Clinton’s email practices during her time as secretary of State. A hearing held on Thursday examined Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) compliance at the State Department, while one scheduled for Monday will cover redactions in the FBI’s report into the server. 

ADVERTISEMENT

On Tuesday, the committee is set to examine "preservation of records at the State Department," pointing to the 14,900 previously undisclosed emails uncovered by the FBI. 

Outraged committee Democrats believe Republicans are trying to sniff out whether Clinton or her aides ordered the destruction of documents to hide them from investigators — something Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzFormer chairman appears at House Oversight contempt debate Republicans spend more than million at Trump properties House Dems seek to make officials feel the pain MORE (R-Utah) has already asked the Department of Justice to investigate. 

Minority leaders are deriding the committee’s efforts as a witch hunt designed to damage Clinton’s bid for the White House. 

“I think it’s an escalation,” ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said Thursday. “We’re getting closer and closer to the election. We only have three more weeks after this for hearings.” 

The FBI wrapped up its investigation into Clinton’s use of a private server in July and recommended that no charges be brought against the former secretary of State. 

But as more information from the investigation has trickled out in the months since, Oversight Republicans — led by Chaffetz — have seized on new details to call for investigations into Clinton. 

His dogged pursuit of the details surrounding Clinton’s use of the server has been met with pushback not just from Democrats but also from federal agencies and other officials asked to testify before the panel. 

On Wednesday, officials from the FBI and three other agencies refused to come to Capitol Hill to give the committee a classified briefing regarding the redactions in the FBI report.

On Thursday, according to Chaffetz, State Department Undersecretary for Management Patrick F. Kennedy appeared only under subpoena. 

Then, late Thursday night, the committee issued subpoenas demanding that three IT specialists involved with Clinton’s server appear in the emergency hearing on Tuesday, reportedly after issuing non-compulsory requests the day before.

The three individuals subpoenaed were Bryan Magliano, who set up Clinton’s server, and two employees of Platte River Networks, the Colorado company that maintained the server. 

The CEO of Datto, Inc., which backed up Clinton's server, and Justin Cooper, a former senior advisor to Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonBiden, Eastland and rejecting the cult of civility Democrats not keen to reignite Jerusalem embassy fight The bottom dollar on recession, Trump's base, and his reelection prospects MORE who set up the former first lady's personal email address, will also testify. 

Cummings slammed Chaffetz for taking unilateral action to issue “a flurry of desperate subpoenas.” 

“By taking these actions, you are staging a set-up,” Cummings wrote. “First, you accuse them of criminal activity without evidence and refer them for criminal investigation. Then you rush to subpoena them to testify without any debate or vote, virtually guaranteeing that some will invoke the Fifth Amendment when their attorneys advise them to steer far clear of our Committee.”  

“It takes partisan gamesmanship to an entirely new level, and it undermines the integrity of our Committee,” he wrote, calling the hearing “a political circus” and a “farce.”  

The Oversight Committee has moved quickly since last Friday, when the FBI released its 58-page report detailing its investigation into Clinton’s server.

According to the report, a Platte River Networks technician deleted an archive of emails from the server in March 2015 — a few weeks after The New York Times publicly revealed Clinton’s exclusive use of the server during her time in office and after the House Benghazi Committee had issued a subpoena for records relating to the 2012 attack on the Libyan outpost.

Chaffetz on Tuesday issued a referral to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia to investigate the deletion and a letter to Platte River Networks, warning the firm that the unidentified technician may also have violated the same federal statutes.

Separately, the committee on Wednesday requested officials from the FBI, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the State and Justice departments give lawmakers a classified briefing on the FBI’s redactions — but were denied. 

In response to the refusal, the committee scheduled Monday’s hearing to question the same four agencies. 

Legislative affairs officials for each will appear, but were not subpoenaed, according to a Democratic aide.  

Large sections of the FBI’s report were redacted to protect classified information. Committee Republicans believe that some of the blocked-out information — such as names in “to” and “from” lines in emails — has been removed unnecessarily.

Among the redacted names is the name of the Platte River Networks technician who erased the email archive. 

According to the FBI’s notes, longtime Clinton aide Cheryl Mills instructed technology vendor Platte River Networks to delete a set of archived emails in December of 2014. Mills told investigators Clinton had decided she no longer needed access to emails older than 60 days.

But the technician apparently forgot the request and didn’t immediately comply. According to the FBI report, between March 25 and March 31 of 2015, the technician “believed he had an 'oh s--t' moment and … deleted the Clinton archive mailbox from [Platte River Networks] server and used BleachBit to delete the exported .PST files he had created on the server system containing Clinton’s emails.”

BleachBit is software designed to prevent the recovery of deleted files.

At that time, the Benghazi panel had already issued both a subpoena and an order that records relating to the 2012 attack be preserved.  

Clinton and Mills told the FBI that they had no knowledge of the technician’s deletion of the emails. The technician, according to the report, "was aware of the existence of the [Benghazi Committee] preservation request and the fact that it meant he should not disturb Clinton's email data on the [Platte River Networks] server."

The deleted archive is separate from the 30,000 emails Clinton's legal team deemed personal and erased prior to turning over an additional 30,000 work-related emails to the State Department in 2014. 

The State Department is expected to begin releasing the 14,900 deleted emails recovered by the FBI and determined to be worked related beginning in October. 

Chaffetz has repeatedly argued that the various investigations into Clinton are the duty of the Oversight Committee. 

“We have an obligation. Hillary Clinton created this mess,” he said during his opening remarks on Thursday. “We're going to move in rapid pace, no matter the political calendar, and we would be derelict in our duty if we didn't do it.”