Late July 2014—December 5, 2014: Heather Samuelson, one of Clinton’s lawyers, allegedly leads the sorting of over 60,000 of Clinton’s emails.

Heather Samuelson (Credit: public domain)

Heather Samuelson (Credit: public domain)

Samuelson’s task is to sort all the emails from Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state into those deemed work-related and those deemed personal. She appears to have no security clearance and no special skills or experience for such a task.

In late July 2014, Platte River Networks (PRN), the company managing Clinton’s private server, emails some of Clinton’s emails to the laptops of Samuelson and Cheryl Mills, another Clinton lawyer (and her former chief of staff). PRN sends Samuelson and Mills the rest of Clinton’s emails in late September 2014. In 2016, Samuelson will tell the FBI that the sorting review takes several months and is completed just prior to December 5, 2014, when copies of the work-related emails are given to the State Department.

According to Samuelson’s 2016 FBI interview, she does the sorting on her laptop. She puts the work-related emails she finds into a computer folder. She first adds all emails sent to or from Clinton’s email account with .gov and .mil email addresses. Then she searches the remaining emails for the names of senior leaders in the State Department, as well as members of Congress, foreign leaders, or other official contacts.

Finally, she conducts a keyword search of terms such as “Afghanistan,” “Libya,” and “Benghazi.” Samuelson will claim that she reviews the “to,” “from,” and “subject” fields of every email; but she doesn’t read the content of every individual email. In some instances, she decides a if an email is work or personal by only reviewing the “to,” “from,” and “subject’ fields.

After Samuelson finishes her sorting, she prints all of the emails to be given to the State Department using a printer in Mills’ office. Then Mills and Kendall subsequently reviews emails that Samuelson printed. Any hard copy of an email Mills and Kendall deem not to be work-related is shredded, and the digital copy of the email is removed from the computer folder Samuelson created of all of the work-related emails.

Mills will later tell the FBI that, she only reviewed emails where Samuelson requested her guidance. There is no sign in the FBI’s final report that Kendall was interviewed about this matter.

With the sorting process completed, Samuelson creates a .pst file containing all of the work-related emails, and also makes sure that all work-related emails are printed to give to the State Department. The .pst file is given to Kendall on a USB thumb drive. On August 6, 2015, Kendall will give this thumb drive to the FBI, with consent from Clinton.

This account appears to be based mostly or entirely on the accounts of Samuelson and Mills. An FBI report will note: “The FBI was unable to obtain a complete list of keywords or named officials searched from Samuelson, Mills, or Clinton’s other attorneys due to an assertion of [attorney-client] privilege. ”

The 30,068 emails deemed work-related are given to the State Department, while the 31,830 deemed personal will later be deleted. The FBI will eventually find over 17,000 of the deleted emails, and thousands of them will be determined work-related after all. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)

In Clinton’s July 2016 FBI interview, she will claim that she had no role whatsoever in the sorting process, other than telling her lawyers to do it.

Late July 2014—December 5, 2014: The Clinton lawyer who sorts Clinton’s emails appears to have no security clearance and no special skills to do so.

Heather Samuelson (Credit: LinkedIn)

Heather Samuelson (Credit: LinkedIn)

Between late July 2014 and December 5, 2014, Clinton lawyer Heather Samuelson spends “several months” sorting Clinton’s emails into work-related and personal, according to an account she will later give to the FBI.

Samuelon allegedly does the vast majority of the sorting by herself. Clinton will later claim that she had no direct involvement in determining which emails to keep or delete and left that process to her lawyers. Her personal lawyer David Kendall, her lawyer and former chief of staff Cheryl Mills allegedly only assist Samuelson when there is an email she is uncertain about.

Samuelson is said to be a Clinton loyalist, and she worked under Clinton in the State Department in the White House Liaison Office. But she has no background in federal record keeping, and it is unclear if she has any security clearance. (Politico, 9/4/2015)

In the FBI’s final report on their Clinton email investigation, released on September 2016, there will be no mention of Samuelson having any kind of security clearance when she sorts the emails. However, the report will mention when other people who handled Clinton’s emails did have security clearances, such as Bill Clinton aide Oscar Flores.

It will later emerge that thousaands of emails Samuelson sorted as personal were recovered after being deleted and found to be work-related. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)

August 2014: Senior State Department officials hold face-to-face negotiations with Clinton’s lawyers and advisers to gain access to all of her emails, but without results.

In July 2014, the State Department contacted Clinton’s staff and requested copies of all her work-related emails from her time as secretary of state. In this month, those efforts intensify with the face-to-face negotiations. However, the emails still are not handed over, so the State Department will formally request them in late October. (The Washington Post, 3/27/2016) (The New York Times, 3/5/2015)

August 2014: A top watchdog non-profit is taken over by a Clinton ally; its effort to force the release of Clinton’s emails is shut down.

David Brock (Credit: Danny Johnston / The Associated Press)

David Brock (Credit: Danny Johnston / The Associated Press)

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has been one of the top political watchdog organizations, targeting unethical and corrupt behavior in both major political parties. In August 2014, wanting to bring on a new board chair with a strong fundraising base, CREW hires David Brock. Brock does have ties to many Democratic donors, but he’s particularly tied to Hillary Clinton. He will found and run her main Super PAC [political action committee] for her 2016 presidential campaign, as well as leading other pro-Clinton groups.

Brock becomes chair of CREW, and moves the organization to a building housing the other groups led by Brock that heavily support Clinton.

A leadership change soon follows, as those who disagree with the new pro-Clinton focus depart and are replaced by Clinton supporters. CREW had published an annual list of the “most corrupt” members of Congress, as well as other critical reports, but that stops.

When Clinton’s email scandal becomes public in March 2015, CREW will stay silent, even though the State Department’s inspector general concluded that CREW’s request for Clinton’s e-mails had been improperly denied. (Bloomberg News, 4/11/2016)

Late September 2014: Clinton’s lawyers are sent the rest of Clinton’s emails so they can finish sorting them.

In late July 2014, the State Department informally requested Clinton to provide all her work-related emails from when she was secretary of state. Cheryl Mills, one of Clinton’s lawyers (as well as her former chief of staff), then had Platte River Networks (PRN), the company managing Clinton’s private server, send her and Clinton lawyer Heather Samuelson copies of all of Clinton’s emails that were sent to or received from anyone with a .gov email address.

According to a later FBI report, in late September 2014, Mills and Samuelson then ask an unnamed PRN employee to send them all of Clinton’s emails from her tenure as secretary of state, including emails sent to or received from non-.gov email addresses. Mills and Samuelson will later tell the FBI that “this follow-up request was made to ensure their review captured all of the relevant.” The PRN employee does so. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)

Although the name of the PRN employee is unknown, the only two employees actively managing Clinton’s server at the time are Paul Combetta and Bill Thornton. Combetta sent the earrlier batch of emails in late July 2014.

October 28, 2014: The State Department formally asks Clinton to turn over her emails from her time as secretary of state.

Starting in July 2014, State Department officials privately reached out to Clinton’s lawyers and advisers to gain access to her work-related emails on her private server. Face-to-face meetings on the issue followed in August. But with the emails still not appearing, on October 28, 2014, the Department formally asks Clinton for the emails. (The Washington Post, 3/27/2016)

November 2014: The Romanian hacker “Guccifer,” who broke into the email account of Clinton associate Sid Blumenthal in 2013, appears to be freely cooperating with US investigators.

Guccifer, whose real name is Marcel-Lehel Lazar, started serving a seven-year prison sentence in Romania earlier in 2014 due to his hacking activities. A New York Times reporter who interviews him there in November 2014 writes, I learned [he was] also busy meeting with American investigators who had traveled to Romania to meet the man who had outfoxed them for so long. They, too, wanted to find out how he burrowed into so many American computers.” (The New York Times, 11/21/2014)

Around December 2014 or January 2015: Copies of Clinton’s emails are deleted from the computers of two of Clinton’s lawyers.

On October 28, 2014, the State Department formally asked Clinton for copies of all her work-related emails, after asking informally for several months. Three lawyers working for Clinton, Cheryl Mills, David Kendall, and Heather Samuelson, then sorted Clinton’s emails into those they deemed work-related or personal.

Paul Combetta (Credit: Facebook)

Paul Combetta (Credit: Facebook)

According to a later FBI report, “on or around December 2014 or January 2015, Mills and Samuelson requested that [Platte River Networks (PRN) employee Paul Combetta] remove from their laptops all of the emails from the July and September 2014 exports. [Combetta] used a program called BleachBit to delete the email-related files so they could not be recovered.” PRN is the computer company managing Clinton’s emails at the time.

The FBI report will explain, “BleachBit is open source software that allows users to ‘shred’ files, clear Internet history, delete system and temporary files and wipe free space on a hard drive. Free space is the area of the hard drive that can contain data that has been deleted. BleachBit’s ‘shred files’ function claims to securely erase files by overwriting data to make the data unrecoverable.”

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ScreenConnect Logo (Credit: public domain)

Combetta then remotely connects to the laptops of Mills and Samuelson using the computer program ScreenConnect to complete the deletions. Clinton’s emails are being stored in a .pst file. Combetta will later tell the FBI “that an unknown Clinton staff member told him s/he did not want the .pst file after the export and wanted it removed from the [Clinton server]” as well.

The Clinton emails are deleted from the laptops of Mills and Samuelson around this time. But another copy of all the emails exist on the server. Combetta will delete those emails as well, in late March 2015. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)

Between December 5, 2014 and December 11, 2014: Clinton tells Mills she doesn’t need her “personal” emails, resulting in Mills telling those managing Clinton’s server to delete them.

In 2016, Clinton’s former chief of staff Cheryl Mills will be interviewed by the FBI. Mills will claim that in December 2014, Clinton decided she no longer needed access to any of her emails older than 60 days. This comes shortly after the State Department formally asked Clinton for all of her work-related emails, on October 28, 2014. This decision has to take place before an email discussing it on December 11, 2014, written Paul Combetta, the Platte River Networks (PRN) employee managing Clinton’s private server.

Paul Combetta (Credit: Facebook)

Paul Combetta (Credit: Facebook)

Even so, Mills will claim she instructed Combetta to modify the email retention policy on Clinton’s clintonemail.com email account to reflect this change. (PRN is managing Clinton’s private server at the time.) This means that the 31,830 Clinton emails that Mills and Clinton’s other lawyers David Kendall and Heather Samuelson recently decided were not work-related will be deleted after 60 days.

However, Combetta will later say in an FBI interview that he forgot to make the changes to Clinton’s clintonemail.com account and didn’t make them until late March 2015.

Clinton will also later be interviewed by the FBI. She will claim that after her staff sent her work-related emails to the State Department on December 5, 2014, “she was asked what she wanted to do with her remaining personal emails. Clinton instructed her staff she no longer needed the emails. Clinton stated she never deleted, nor did she instruct anyone to delete, her emails to avoid complying with FOIA [Freedom of Information Act], State [Department], or FBI requests for information.”

However, Clinton saying her personal emails were no longer needed, then having Mills tell PRN to have them delete them after 60 days, will result in all of Clinton’s emails that her lawyers deemed personal getting permanently deleted. The FBI will later recover some of the emails through other means and discover that thousands actually were work-related. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)

December 10, 2014: The manager of Clinton’s private server asks for Internet advice on how to keep copies of some of Clinton’s personal emails after changing a setting to delete them all.

On December 10, 2014, “stonetear” asks for advice from Reddit users on how to implement a 60-day email “purge” policy. This will later be revealed to be an alias for Paul Combetta, a Platte River Networks (PRN) employee actively managing Clinton’s private server at the time.

He writes: “Hello. I have a client who wants to push out a 60 day email retention policy for certain users. However, they also want these users to have a ‘Save Folder’ in their Exchange folder list where the users can drop items that they want to hang onto longer than the 60 day window.
All email in any other folder in the mailbox should purge anything older than 60 days (should not apply to calendar or contact items of course). How would I go about this? Some combination of retention and managed folder policy?”

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Combetta as ‘stonetear’ asking Reddit users for help. (Credit: Reddit)

Cheryl Mills (Credit: Andrew Harrer / Getty Images)

Cheryl Mills (Credit: Andrew Harrer / Getty Images)

In 2016, Clinton’s former chief of staff Cheryl Mills will be interviewed by the FBI. Mills will claim that in December 2014, Clinton decided she no longer needed access to any of her personal emails, and they could be deleted after 60 days. This comes shortly after the State Department formally asked Clinton for all of her work-related emails, on October 28, 2014.

According to a later FBI report based on a February 2016 interview with Combetta, Combetta communicates with Mills and/or Clinton lawyer Heather Samuelson by email on December 10 and 12, 2014, as well as by phone on December 9 and 10,  2014. In these communications, they tell Combetta they want the last 60 days of the emails of Clinton and Clinton aide Huma Abedin moved to new accounts. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/23/2016)

However, as can be seen from Combetta’s Reddit post, it appears Mills wanted Combetta to figure out how to keep some of the emails “longer than the 60 day window,” in contradiction to the later claim in Combetta’s interview, as well as Clinton’s later claim that all of her over 31,000 personal emails were unwanted and should be permanently deleted.