Washington Free Beacon
September 27, 2016
FBI Director James Comey explained Tuesday how top Hillary Clinton aide Cheryl Mills received immunity and was able to sit in on Clinton’s interview with the bureau despite being on her legal team during a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) asked Comey why Mills was given immunity in return for her laptop as part of the FBI investigation into Clinton’s private email server.
“Director Comey, why was Cheryl Mills granted immunity in the classified data investigation for Secretary Clinton?” he asked.
Comey explained that the type of immunity Mills was given, active production immunity, is meant to safeguard her from criminal prosecution by the Justice Department
“So, it was not personal immunity for her,” Comey said. “It was–the immunity was, we will not use, we the Department of Justice, directly against you anything we recover on this laptop. Fairly common tool of criminal investigations, but that’s what it was.”
He said the reasoning behind this was that the FBI needed the laptop for its investigation, and Mills’ lawyer negotiated the deal so the bureau could get it.
“The FBI’s judgment was we need to get to that laptop,” Comey said. “We need to see what it is. This investigation has been going on for a year, and this was, in the negotiation, a tool that her lawyer asked for that the Department of Justice granted so we could get the laptop.”
Sasse asked if Mills was Clinton’s lawyer during her interview with the FBI.
“Is that irregular?” he asked.
“Our understanding was that she was acting as a member of her legal team,” Comey responded. “Not irregular.”
He said that Mills’ ability to sit in on Clinton’s interview was because the FBI does not “police” who can and cannot observe a voluntary interview.
“Not the FBI’s job to decide who can be in a voluntary interview,” he said. “There are ethical canons that govern lawyers, but we don’t police that.”
Mills served as Clinton’s chief of staff at the State Department.
James Comey’s Clinton Immunity
More questions about the FBI’s special handling of the email case.
FBI Director James Comey appears Wednesday before the House Judiciary Committee, where he’ll get another chance to explain his agency’s double standard regarding Hillary Clinton. His probe of the former Secretary of State’s private email server is looking more like a kid-glove exercise with each new revelation.
House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz on Friday disclosed that the FBI granted immunity to Mrs. Clinton’s top aides as part of its probe into whether Mrs. Clinton mishandled classified information. According to Mr. Chaffetz, this “limited” immunity was extended to former chief of staff Cheryl Mills and senior adviser Heather Samuelson, in order to get them to surrender their laptops, which they’d used to sort through Mrs. Clinton’s work-versus-personal emails.
Why the courtesy? “If the FBI wanted any other Americans’ laptops, they would just go get them—they wouldn’t get an immunity deal,” Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan told Politico. He’s right. The FBI merely had to seek a subpoena or search warrant. By offering immunity, the FBI exempted the laptops and their emails as potential evidence in a criminal case.
Beth Wilkinson, who represents Ms. Mills and Ms. Samuelson, says the immunity deals were designed to protect her clients against any related “classification” disputes. This is an admission that both women knew their unsecure laptops had been holding sensitive information for more than a year. Meanwhile, Mr. Comey also allowed Ms. Mills and Ms. Samuelson to serve as lawyers for Mrs. Clinton at her FBI interview—despite having been interviewed as witnesses and offered immunity.
The FBI also offered immunity to John Bentel, who directed the State Department’s Office of Information Resources Management; to Bryan Pagliano, Mrs. Clinton’s IT guru; and to an employee of Platte River Networks (PRN), which housed the Clinton server. Usually, the FBI only “proffers” immunity deals in return for genuine information. In this case the FBI seemed not to make any such demands. The deals also did not include—as they often do—requirements that the recipients cooperate with other investigating bodies, such as Congress.
Meantime, the FBI waited until late Friday to dump another 189 pages of documents from its investigation, including notes from interviews with Ms. Mills and Ms. Samuelson, Mr. Pagliano, Clinton confidante Huma Abedin, and Platte River Network employees. They raise even more questions.
Was the FBI concerned that Ms. Mills in the fall of 2013 (after Congress began investigating the Benghazi attacks) called Mr. Pagliano to ask about software that could be used for “wiping computer data”? Or that a Platte River Networks employee, after getting instructions from Ms. Mills to begin deleting Clinton emails more than 60 days old, entitled the resulting work ticket the “Hillary coverup operation”? Or that a PRN employee was instructed by the company’s lawyer “not to answer any [FBI] questions related to conversations with” David Kendall, Mrs. Clinton’s personal lawyer?
The FBI documents also disclose that Mr. Pagliano admitted to having, at the beginning of Mrs. Clinton’s tenure, several conversations with unnamed State Department official(s) who expressed concern that her private server posed “a federal records retention issue,” and that it was likely transmitting classified information. When Mr. Pagliano relayed these concerns to Ms. Mills, she ignored them.
We’d also love to hear what the FBI made of the news that Mrs. Clinton maintained a Gmail account. The Democratic presidential nominee has never disclosed this detail. Speaking of revealing, President Obama has publicly said he found out about Mrs. Clinton’s server through “news reports.” Yet the FBI notes reveal that he emailed Mrs. Clinton on her private server under a pseudonym. Ms. Abedin told the FBI that the White House was notified when Mrs. Clinton changed her email address so the President’s secure server wouldn’t exclude her emails. Was Mr. Obama fibbing too?
These columns have long opposed the appointment of special prosecutors, but that depends on the ability of established legal officers to do their jobs without political favor. Mr. Comey’s handling of the Clinton case understandably makes Americans wonder if their government can be trusted to perform this duty. On the evidence of the FBI’s special treat for Mrs. Clinton and her aides, they are right to wonder.
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