Just when Hillary Clinton appeared to finally be barreling toward the Democratic nomination, the Washington Post and New York Times report that her email scandal is growing even more serious. Remember the staffer who she hired to set up her rules-violated, unsecure private email server who invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination? He's been granted immunity by the feds, in exchange for his cooperation in this ongoing, expanded criminal investigation:
The Justice Department has granted immunity to the former State Department staffer who worked on Hillary Clinton’s private email server as part of a criminal investigation into the possible mishandling of classified information, according to a senior law enforcement official. The official said the FBI had secured the cooperation of Bryan Pagliano, who worked on Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign before setting up the server in her New York home in 2009. As the FBI looks to wrap up its investigation in the coming months, agents will likely want to interview Clinton and her senior aides about the decision to use a private server, how it was set up, and whether any of the participants knew they were sending classified information in emails, current and former officials said...As part of the inquiry, law enforcement officials will look at the potential damage had the classified information in the emails been exposed. The Clinton campaign has described the probe as a security review. But current and former officials in the FBI and at the Justice Department have said investigators are trying to determine whether a crime was committed. “There was wrongdoing,” said a former senior law enforcement official. “But was it criminal wrongdoing?”
Had the classified information been exposed? A Defense Intelligence Analyst, the former acting CIA Director and President Obama's former Secretary of Defense have all stated with virtual certainty that her egregiously vulnerable was accessed by foreign governments. In any case, Pagliano is now a cooperating witness in this probe -- which Mrs. Clinton inaccurately downplayed as a trivial "security review." Oh really? Here's how the Post describes its seriousness: "The email investigation is being conducted by FBI counterintelligence agents and supervised by the Justice Department’s National Security Division." The Times confirms that the FBI will likely interview the presidential candidate in the next few weeks, with conclusions about a prosecution referral being drawn in "the coming months." Its story also counts the various concurrent open investigations into Clinton's conduct:
In addition to the F.B.I. investigation, there are continuing inquiries into Mrs. Clinton’s emails by the inspector general of the State Department, the inspector general of the intelligence agencies, the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the House Select Committee on Benghazi. Aides to Mrs. Clinton and officials from the State Department also face the prospect of questioning under oath in a separate legal proceeding brought by Judicial Watch, the conservative government watchdog group, under the Freedom of Information Act. In that case, the group has sought emails related to the special employment status given to Mrs. Clinton’s close aide Huma Abedin so she could receive additional salaries beyond the one she received from State. Last week Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of United States District Court in Washington allowed the questioning after a hearing in which he criticized the State Department’s “constant drip” of revelations about emails from the server and said there were many unanswered questions about who authorized its use.“It just boggles the mind that the State Department allowed this circumstance to arise in the first place,” said Judge Sullivan, who was appointed to the District Court in 1994 by President Bill Clinton and to lower courts by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush. “It’s just very, very, very troubling.”
Five probes. A Republican conspiracy, the Clinton campaign desperately spins. The State Department has confirmed that more than 2,000 emails on Clinton's bootleg server contained classified material. She flatly denied trafficking in any such information when this scandal broke roughly a year ago. Since then, she has piled lie atop provable lie in an effort to escape political and legal consequences. Her national security-compromising behavior was not an innocent accident; she knew her duty and ignored it, even after she was explicitly warned about hostile hackers trying to access US secrets by targeting top officials' private emails. Both news stories quote unnamed officials straddling the line between casting the scandal as very serious, and downplaying its implications. The Times writes that David Petraeus' misconduct is considered worse by some in the know because the material he wrongly shared was more sensitive, because he clearly knew what he was doing, and because he initially lied to investigators. On the other hand, officials quoted in previous stories pertaining to this mess have framed the Petraeus affair as less serious because the leak was contained to one other person: His mistress, who had top-level security clearance. Investigators are trying to piece together how, logistically, certain highly secret emails -- including top secret and beyond-top-secret material -- ended up on Clinton's basement server:
In their investigation, F.B.I. agents have sought to compare electronic timestamps on classified sources to figure out whether the aides reviewed the sources and then retyped the information into emails that were sent or forwarded to Mrs. Clinton’s private server. That has proved challenging, and one official said investigators have not concluded that such retyping occurred. State Department officials said that an employee who divulges classified information in the department’s unclassified network could face administrative punishments, including reprimands or in severe cases the loss of any security clearance.
Mrs. Clinton has lied to the public and the press about this situation repeatedly. She'd better get her story straight before she sits down with the FBI. Parting thought: Some of the quotes in these stories can be interpreted as subtle attempts to tamp down expectations of an indictment, or at least to take pains to avoid fueling a political fire. Are these sources just being sensitive to the electoral context to all of this, or might we see warring leaks over the next several days, as we've seen in the past? What seems clear is that this issue continues to ensnarl Hillary Clinton, and that this extremely serious matter will hang over her head for at least the next few months. If and when a criminal referral is offered or withheld, expect blame and leaks to fly. I'll leave you with this observation from a prominent law professor:
DOJ does not give immunity without something valuable from a potential target like Bryan Pagliano. The situation just got more precarious.— Jonathan Turley (@JonathanTurley) March 3, 2016