The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world he didnt exist.Charles Baudelaire
Long-time followers know that I have a somewhat obsessive interest in public corruption cases, and have written extensively about corruption in Jefferson County, Harrisburg, Chicago, Detroit, and Puerto Rico. Thus, when I started reading reports that the FBIs investigation into Hillary Clintons handling of classified information (or, what some observers dismissively refer to as the email controversy) had morphed into a public corruption investigation, I started doing a lot of research.
If you take the time to dig into primary sources and court proceedings, you learn many things about Clinton, her inner circle, and how the State Department operates that would make most Americans seethe.
First, it is quite clear that Clinton & Co. have been actively misrepresenting their motives in maintaining a private server for correspondence. Second, the State Departments failure to supply relevant information as required by law raises questions about whether officials there are playing a role in concealing wrongdoing. The State Department has become so systematic in denying journalists requests for information about Clintons tenure there that the public should be demanding to know if government officials are working in coordination with Clintons campaign.
I have struggled with how to organize my thoughts on this topic. Usually I provide a long chronological explanation of events. There is so much bad behavior in this instance, however, that I am going to list red flags that suggest criminal activity was taking place. I hope to follow this up with a post on technology and cybersecurity later. Lets jump in.
Red Flag #1: Although Clinton publicly claims she is cooperating with the litany of investigations related to her private serverand has asked others present to do the sameshe and eight former State Department employees declined to be interviewed for the Inspector Generals investigation.
This piece of information is buried in the footnotes of the IG report. This article from Government Executive provides profiles of the aides that did not cooperate with the IG investigation.
When asked by a reporter in a recent interview why she refused to cooperate with the IGs investigation, Clinton said it was because what they wanted to ask, wed already talked about in the public arena. She has talked about this on the campaign trail, so that absolves her of having to talk to investigators. The logic of an innocent person at work, no doubt.
Red Flag #2: Clinton purchased the server and had the clintonemail.com domain set up with the intention of using it for State Department business before she started working at the agency. That is to say, she never had the experience of being inconvenienced by the State Departments technology, as she suggests.
According to the IG report, clintonemail.com was registered by a former aide to Bill Clinton, who never worked with the State Department, weeks before Clinton began working there. Shortly thereafter, Clinton hired the IT staffer who ended up being granted immunity by the Justice Department, Bryan Pagliano, to maintain the equipment. (See page 43. See also New documents refute Clintons secret server timeline.)
Clinton decided to bring a former campaign staffer to the State Department exclusively to handle her correspondence, even though the State Department has an established office and staff to devoted to IT issues. Although that staffer was embedded within the IT staff, what he was working on was concealed from them. Why would Clintons aides try to conceal something they viewed as above board?
Red Flag #3: It is highly unusual for a political appointee to be handling something like IT work. Political appointees normally have policy-oriented roles. The fact that Clinton brought a former campaign staffer to handle a secret IT task caused a lot of confusion and concern among folks at the State Department.
Wisecarver and Swart, who had worked in the department for decades, were soon swapping emails expressing confusion and surprise that a political appointee, a so-called Schedule C employee who is more commonly hired to work in the secretary of states offices, should be joining the IT departments ranks.
Schedule C employees, who help presidential appointees and agency heads make policy, can only report to people appointed by the U.S. president or other senior executive officials. But no one like that worked in the IT office, so Kennedy ended up being Paglianos designated supervisor.
The department told Reuters that Pagliano and Kennedy had little contact, and that Kennedy was unaware of the server or his subordinates role in running it. Nor did Wisecarver, Paglianos day-to-day boss, or Swart know, according to the former colleague, who said the IT office should have been informed.
One of the perks of Clintons IT staffers employment status was that he was not permitted to discuss his work with anyone but her or her inner circle. This helped keep the server a secret even within the agency, and likely allowed the staffer to be paid a lot more than similarly qualified people among IT staff. That is to say, he was paid like a political appointee rather than a regular employee.
Red Flag #4: In addition to Paglianos $140,000 salary at the State Department, the Clintons made additional payments to Pagliano on the side. Pagliano did not disclose these payments to the federal government as required by law.
I spent many years in government, including as an appointed official. I would advise you to run like hell if a government official offers to pay you on the side for something related to government business. Those services are usually subject to public procurement laws and competitive bidding practices. You would probably be a party to something illegal. This is likely one reason Pagliano pleads the 5th everywhere he goes.
Asked in early August about whether Pagliano had been paid privately to maintain the server, a State Department official said that the agency had found no evidence that he ever informed the department that he had outside income.
This week, a different State Department official said he could not clarify Paglianos pay situation, citing ongoing reviews and investigations of Clintons e-mail setup.
Pagliano did not list the outside income in the required personal financial disclosures he filed each year. The State Department has said Pagliano concluded his full-time service in February 2013, which coincides with Clintons departure as secretary. He remains a State Department contractor doing work on mobile and remote computing functions, according to a State Department spokesman.
Why didnt Pagliano disclose the payments he was receiving from the Clintons? Probably because he was not legally permitted to be doing it:
Federal regulations allow employees at Paglianos level to have outside employment but require that the extra income not exceed 15 percent of their government salary. Employees must also ensure that their outside work not create a conflict of interest with their government job.
Red Flag #5: Clintons top aides were doing the same thing she was. Several of her top aides had accounts that they used extensively (producing at least 72,000 pages worth of materialthere seems to be no way of knowing if this is complete) for government business, in addition to their government email addresses.
See page 24 of the IG report, footnotes. This is probably the best indication that the server was deliberately used to circumvent open records laws. It also suggests that Clinton and her appointed staff assumed office with the impression that she and her aides would be involved in activities worth concealing.
The report only lists these staffers by title, but they appear to include Cheryl Mills, Clintons Chief of Staff; Huma Abedin, Deputy Chief of Staff; Jake Sullivan, Director of Policy Planning (who now teaches at Yale Law School); and Clintons Deputy Assistant Secretary for Strategic Communications.
Red Flag #6: When multiple IT staffers at the State Department eventually found out and expressed concern about Clinton using a personal server for government business, John Bentel, Director of the State Departments Executive Secretariats Office of Information Resources Management, falsely told them the server had been approved by legal staff and directed them to never mention the server again.
Two staff in S/ES-IRM reported to OIG that, in late 2010, they each discussed their concerns about Secretary Clintons use of a personal email account in separate meetings with the then-Director of S/ES-IRM. In one meeting, one staff member raised concerns that information sent and received on Secretary Clintons account could contain Federal records that needed to be preserved in order to satisfy Federal recordkeeping requirements. According to the staff member, the Director stated that the Secretarys personal system had been reviewed and approved by Department legal staff and that the matter was not to be discussed any further. As previously noted, OIG found no evidence that staff in the Office of the Legal Adviser reviewed or approved Secretary Clintons personal system. According to the other S/ES-IRM staff member who raised concerns about the server, the Director stated that the mission of S/ES-IRM is to support the Secretary and instructed the staff never to speak of the Secretarys personal email system again.
The State Department was hit with emphatic emails from agency lawyers taking issue with the suggestion that their approval was either sought or given.
Bentel declined to cooperate with the IG investigation or the Judiciary Committees investigation, but later testified that he only learned of the existence of the server from press reports after Clinton left office.
In depositions, several of her staff have testified that they were unaware of the existence of the server or who approved of it. When they are shown emails they sent and received discussing Clintons personal server, its cybersecurity problems, and how it violated State Department policy, they respond by saying they cant recall what the emails were about or sending them. I believe folks in the legal profession call this the Shaggy Defense.
Red Flag #7: The State Department accidentally lost all of the emails sent by the IT staffer that has been given immunity by the Justice Department.
The State Department says that it conveniently has no email records associated with Pagliano from Clintons tenure there, with the exception of a few that have been located through his correspondence with other federal agencies. Regretfully, they say, the State Department has room for improvement in records retention. Like O.J. Simpson has room to improve in anger management.
Did they fail to retain these emails, or were they destroyed when he was given immunity? Given that he was considered a political appointee and not a regular staffer, they should have been retained.
It is worth noting that the State Department is also suppressing the release of emails related to a controversial trade agreement until just after election, presumably to conceal Clintons policy role in it. They seem to be doing this systematically. This suggests that some official there is coordinating internal legal and communications decisions with the Clinton campaign.
Red Flag #8: Clinton has no excuse not to be familiar with records retention requirements.
Clinton has coyly suggested that she did not know about the records retention requirements, but the Federal Records Act has not changed significantly since the Clintons were in the White House. The Federal Records Act requires the appropriate management and preservation of federal government records, regardless of physical form.
Whats worse, she formally reminded State Department staff not to use personal email for government business and the Ambassador to Kenya was disciplined and forced to resign for doing so during Clintons tenure (IG report, pages 4041).
Clinton herself in June 2011 sent a cable under her signature warning employees to avoid conducting official Department business from your personal e-mail accounts.
Even to this day, Clinton maintains that her behavior was permissible, including putting this on her website, while there is documentation of her warning her staff that it was not and basically firing someone for it.
Red Flag #9: Clinton and her aides continued to use this email setup even after they were aware of potential security breaches and vulnerabilities. They tried to contain these breaches by doing things like turning the server off for a few minutes.
From the IG report (page 40):
On January 9, 2011, the non-Departmental advisor to President Clinton who provided technical support to the Clinton email system notified the Secretarys Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations that he had to shut down the server because he believed someone was trying to hack us and while they did not get in i didnt [sic] want to let them have the chance to. Later that day, the advisor again wrote to the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, We were attacked again so I shut [the server] down for a few min. On January 10, the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations emailed the Chief of Staff and the Deputy Chief of Staff for Planning and instructed them not to email the Secretary anything sensitive and stated that she could explain more in person.
Thats how you deal with a security breach, right? Turn the system off for a few minutes. At any rate, they knew they were having security problems, but somehow continued to use this system because it was worth it to Clinton.
Red Flag #10: Employees at the private company that eventually ended up hosting Clintons server believed the Clintons had some shady shit on the server based on their requests to reduce data backups after the FBI investigation made news. They were so concerned about this that they were trying to create a paper trail of what they believed were inappropriate requests to insulate their firm from criminal charges.
How many people who are paying a company to host their data ask the company to stop backing it up? This is where the story gets good.
E-mails released this week show that members of the State Department IT departments help desk were unaware of the setup and sought information about why a correspondent was getting a fatal error when sending messages to Clintons address. The tech support team didnt know it was you, an aide e-mailed Clinton
By early 2013, as Clinton was preparing to conclude her time as secretary of state, she was looking to upgrade the systems security and durability, people briefed on the server have said. The system had crashed for days during Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, disrupting her e-mail abilities.
To find a company to take over for Pagliano, the Clintons turned to Tania Neild, a technology broker whose company, InfoGrate, is in Bronxville, N.Y., about 20 miles from their home.
In January 2013, weeks before Clintons departure from Foggy Bottom, Neild alerted a small Denver-based technology firm, Platte River Networks, to a possible contract, according to Andy Boian, a spokesman for the tech firm.
So not only did Clinton keep sensitive government documents on an unsecure private server, she handed them over to some random private company to keep. Did she try to get them a security clearance? Youre kidding, right? This is a company that had never had a government contract before. All she cared about was concealing what she personally needed concealed. And this was a server she did not want people to know existed.
The FBI seized the server from this company, not Clinton.
Employees at the company that maintained Hillary Clintons private email server expressed concern among themselves about the way the former secretary of states team directed them to manage data backups after the FBI started looking into the arrangements, according to emails obtained by a senator.
In a letter obtained by CNN, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, asks Datto, Inc, the makers of Clintons server back-up system, for information on how her emails were preserved and protected. The FBI has also sought information from the company, according to sources.
Johnson indicates that a Clinton family company, Clinton Executive Service Corp., paid for the back-up services, operated through a device called the Datto SIRIS S2000, and that the purchase was made by Platte River Networks when the server was moved from her private residence to a New Jersey-based data center in 2013.
In the letter, Johnson quotes from emails sent by and to employees at Platte River Networks, which indicate there was discussion about how the duration of data backups could be reduced, apparently at the direction of the Clinton Executive Service Corp.
Then this past August, a Platte River Networks employee wrote to a coworker that he was, Starting to think this whole thing really is covering up some shaddy (sic) s**t.
I just think if we have it in writing that they told us to cut the backups, and that we can go public with our statement saying we have backups since day one, then we were told to trim to 30days (sic), it would make us look a WHOLE LOT better, the unnamed employee continued.
The email was sent shortly after news emerged that the FBI was looking into the security of the server, and several months after it was revealed that Clinton exclusively used the private account to conduct State Department business.
The employee indicates in the email that Clintons team asked them to change the back-up duration between October and February, presumably of 2014/2015, though that isnt explicitly stated in the portion of the email included in Johnsons letter.
Pair this information with the knowledge that Clintons IT guys emails also magically disappeared, that Clinton deleted 30,000 emails she (not authorities) deemed personal in nature, and you get the impression these guys have been trying to destroy evidence.
I suspect this request would have come from Huma Abedin,Clintons gal Friday, who worked for the State Department, the Clinton Foundation, a consulting firm associated with the Clintons, and a Clinton family company simultaneously. She also hasnt been interested in working with investigators. The Clinton Foundation has also been subpoenaed in ongoing investigations.
Red Flag #11: Except for the IT guy who has been granted limited immunity from the Department of Justice, Clinton insiders are working with the same attorney. I take these to be the staffers that also used personal email for government business.
Four central figures in the FBIs criminal investigation of Hillary Clintons email practices are all using the same lawyer, a move described as a red flag by a former U.S. attorney who now runs a government watchdog group.
Lawyer Beth Wilkinson is representing: Clinton former chief of staff Cheryl Mills; policy adviser Jake Sullivan; media gatekeeper Philippe Reines; and former aide Heather Samuelson, who helped decide which Clinton emails were destroyed before turning over the remaining 30,000 records to the State Department.
I think it would be a real red flag, Matthew Whitaker, executive director of the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, or FACT, told Fox News, in reference to the legal defense. He suggested having a single lawyer would help the four Clinton aides align their stories for FBI interviews.
The benefit is to have one lawyers brain have all the knowledge of the various pieces and parts, and so each of those potential targets or subjects of the investigation get to share information across that same attorneyand quite frankly get their story to sync up and understand what other people know of the situation, he said.
Wilkinson is a well-respected Washington, D.C., attorney who successfully argued in favor of the death penalty for Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing case.
Red Flag #12: The IT staffer who has been granted immunity keeps trying to plead the 5th, because he is genuinely worried about exposure to crimes not captured in the agreement.
In a related civil case asking the judge to allow him not to testify despite the immunity agreement, his lawyers wrote:
The potential for self-incrimination here is sufficient to justify Mr. Paglianos intention to assert his Fifth Amendment rights, MacDougall added, noting, Mr. Paglianos prospective deposition will inevitably cover matters that might furnish a link in the chain of evidence needed to prosecute.
Indeed, MacDougall continued, the mere fact that the government was willing to offer Pagliano use immunity here in exchange for his testimony indicates that his fear of prosecution is more than fanciful or speculative.
So what would the Clintons have been seeking to conceal that has been worth all of this effort and risk? Heres some recommended reading.
How a Clinton donor ended up on sensitive intelligence board (You will note that the donor named in this article is also a superdelegate who committed to Clinton in this election.)
1,100 donors to a Canadian charity linked to Clinton Foundation remain a secret (the Clintons set up sister organizationsyes, more than onein other countries to receive funds, and these donors remain private)
Clinton Charity Tapped Foreign Friends (again, circumventing agreement not to raise funds from foreign countries while Clinton was Secretary of State)
A side note on Powells use of personal email
Clinton has defended her behavior by explaining that Colin Powell also used a personal email address for State Department business. This is an incredibly misleading claim, as the IG report reveals. The secure system the State Department uses was put in place during Powells first year there. The system was so primitive that it only allowed users to correspond with people within the agency. To contact anyone outside the agency, one had to use a different medium of communication. Powell used personal emailwhich is different than a personal serverto communicate outside the agency. He had a laptop with a separate line on his desk that he referred to as the unclassified line. Sounds a bit more responsible, no?
By the time Clinton reached the State Department, the system and related policies protecting security were far more sophisticated. This was partially due to previous cyberattacks.