The Department of Justice reportedly gave immunity to a computer expert who deleted Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s emails during its investigation into her private email server despite being ordered by Congress to keep them.
The New York Times reported Thursday that the Justice Department’s immunity deal with Paul Combetta likely means that Republican lawmakers’ calls for federal authorities to investigate his deletions will go unheard.
The top Republican on the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, had asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Clinton, her lawyers or Combetta obstructed justice when the emails were deleted in March 2015.
The FBI said when Clinton’s team called Platte River Networks – the Denver-based IT company where Combetta worked – in March 2015, Combetta said he realized he didn’t follow a December 2014 directive from Clinton’s lawyers to have the emails deleted. He then used BleachBit to delete the messages in the days after the meeting with her lawyers.
The Times, citing the FBI’s notes, reported that Combetta initially told the agency in February that he didn’t recall deleting the emails, but changed his story in May.
In February, he told federal investigators he didn’t remember seeing an order from the Benghazi investigation committee, which Cheryl Mills had sent to Platte River Networks, to keep the emails.
However, in the May interview, he said at the time he deleted the emails “he was aware of the existence of the preservation request and the fact that it meant he should not disturb Clinton’s email data” on the Platte River network.
Combetta is the second person to be given immunity in the investigation into Clinton’s private email server. IT specialist Bryan Pagliano, who was a staff member on Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, was given immunity in exchange for answers into how he was able to setup Clinton’s “homebrew” server that was setup at her Chappaqua, N.Y. residence around the time she started working at the State Department.
The FBI described the deletions in its notes of its investigation into Clinton’s account that was released last week. Though Combetta’s name has been redacted, law enforcement sources familiar with the investigation identified him as the person who received immunity and deleted Clinton’s emails to The New York Times.
Brian Fallon, a Clinton campaign spokesman, told The Times that the deleted emails had already been investigated by the FBI before its decision to close the case.
“As the FBI report notes, neither Hillary Clinton nor her attorneys had knowledge of the Platte River Network employee’s actions. It appears he acted on his own and against guidance given by both Clinton’s and Platte River’s attorneys to retain all data in compliance with a congressional preservation request,” Fallon told the newspaper.
The House Oversight Committee had badgered the Justice Department to investigate whether Clinton had lied to Congress about her email account testimony given last October.
Lawmakers have also asked Platte River Networks officials and Combetta to appear at a hearing before the committee on Tuesday about how the email was setup and how exactly the messages were deleted.