February 2016: The Justice Department declines to give the FBI Clinton Foundation investigation the legal authority for more investigative powers, but the investigation continues anyway.

In the summer of 2015the FBI begins investigating the Clinton Foundation. By early 2016, four FBI field offices (New York, Los Angeles, Washington and Little Rock, Arkansas) have been pursuing information about the foundation.

In February 2016, FBI officials make a presentation to the Justice Department, apparently trying to get more legal authority, such as subpoena power, which can only come from the Justice Department agreeing to empanel a grand jury. The FBI had gained evidence from at least two informants who came up in other investigations and were critical of the foundation. It also may have learned of a suspicious bank transaction by this time.

Assistant Attorney General, Leslie Caldwell (Credit: Jason Doiy)

Assistant Attorney General, Leslie Caldwell (Credit: Jason Doiy)

The meeting is held in Washington, DC, and is attended by FBI officials, prosecutors from the Justice Department’s public integrity section, and Leslie Caldwell, the head of the Justice Department’s criminal division. Robert Capers, the US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, will later play a key role in the conflict between the FBI and Justice Department, but neither he nor prosecutors from his office attend. (The Wall Street Journal, 11/2/2016)

The Wall Street Journal will report on this in October 2016: “By all accounts, the meeting didn’t go well. Some said that is because the FBI didn’t present compelling evidence to justify more aggressive pursuit of the Clinton Foundation, and that the career anti-corruption prosecutors in the room simply believed it wasn’t a very strong case. Others said that from the start, the Justice Department officials were stern, icy, and dismissive of the case. ‘That was one of the weirdest meetings I’ve ever been to,’ one participant told others afterward, according to people familiar with the matter.”

The Journal will add, “Anti-corruption prosecutors at the Justice Department told the FBI at the meeting they wouldn’t authorize more aggressive investigative techniques, such as subpoenas, formal witness interviews, or grand jury activity. But the FBI officials believed they were well within their authority to pursue the leads and methods already under way, these people said.”

As a result, the FBI foundation investigation(s) will continue, but without subpoena power and other common investigative powers. (The Wall Street Journal, 10/30/2016)

Not long after the meeting, the Justice Department will allegedly send a message for all offices to “stand down,” but that won’t stop the investigation either.

After February 2016: Justice Department officials allegedly tell FBI agents investigating the Clinton Foundation to “stand down,” to no effect.

The Wall Street Journal Logo (Credit: public domain)

The Wall Street Journal Logo (Credit: public domain)

In February 2016, there is a key meeting between the FBI and Justice Department to determine the fate and direction of the FBI’s Clinton Foundation investigation. The FBI wanted more investigative power to intensify their investigation, but the Justice Department refused to give it, claiming their case is weak.

The Wall Street Journal will later report that after this meeting, “Justice Department officials became increasingly frustrated that the [FBI] agents seemed to be disregarding or disobeying their instructions. Following the February meeting, officials at Justice Department headquarters sent a message to all the offices involved to ‘stand down,’ a person familiar with the matter said.”

The Journal will explain that this means to “proceed more overtly” and “act discreetly,” due to the sensitivities of conducting an investigation into the foundation closely linked to Hillary Clinton, who is a major Democratic candidate in the 2016 presidential election, while the election is in full swing.

However, the investigation will continue as before, though still without the additional powers only the Justice Department can grant. (The Wall Street Journal, 11/2/2016)

February 2016—Early November 2016: It is alleged that a US attorney has increased tensions between the FBI and Justice Department over the FBI’s Clinton Foundation investigation.

On November 2, 2016, the Wall Street Journal will report, “Starting in February [2016] and continuing today, investigators from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and public-corruption prosecutors [at the Justice Department] became increasingly frustrated with each other, as often happens within and between departments. At the center of the tension stood [the US attorney for the Eastern District of New York], Robert Capers, who some at the FBI came to view as exacerbating the problems by telling each side what it wanted to hear…”

Robert Capers (Credit: public domain)

Robert Capers (Credit: public domain)

In February 2016, there is a key meeting in which FBI investigators presented their evidence to Justice Department officials, hoping to be granted additional powers so they could conduct a more vigorous investigation. But the department officials turned them down, claiming that their case was weak.

The stances in the FBI and Justice Department would essentially remain unchanged through late October 2016, when the conflict would erupt into public view due to a series of leaks.

The Journal will report, “At times, people on both sides of the dispute thought Mr. Capers agreed with them. Defenders of Mr. Capers said he was straightforward and always told people he thought the case wasn’t strong. … In subsequent conversations with the Justice Department, Mr. Capers told officials in Washington that the FBI agents on the case ‘won’t let it go…'”

However, Capers is not the only official singled out for blame in public leaks. The Journal will also report that “some have blamed the FBI’s No. 2 official, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, claiming he sought to stop agents from pursuing the case this summer. His defenders deny that, and say it was the Justice Department that kept pushing back on the investigation.” McCabe has been criticized for a conflict of interest that could make him biased in favor of the foundation, but he has refused to recuse himself from the foundation investigation.

In August 2016, the FBI and Justice Department agree to delay major decisions in the investigation until after the presidential election on November 8, 2016. However, multiple leaks to the media show that tensions remain high in the conflict. (The Wall Street Journal, 11/2/2016)

February 1, 2016: Some of Clinton’s 22 “top secret” emails allegedly contain “operational intelligence” involving espionage sources and methods.

John Schindler, a former National Security Agency (NSA) counterintelligence officer, claims that, “Discussions with Intelligence Community officials have revealed that Ms. Clinton’s ‘unclassified’ emails included Holy Grail items of American espionage such as the true names of Central Intelligence Agency [CIA] intelligence officers serving overseas under cover. Worse, some of those exposed are serving under non-official cover. […] At a minimum, valuable covers have been blown, careers have been ruined, and lives have been put at serious risk.” Additionally, some names of foreigners who are on the CIA payroll are mentioned.

One unnamed senior Intelligence Community official says that because of the likelihood that foreign governments have accessed all of Clinton’s emails, “It’s a death sentence. If we’re lucky, only agents, not our officers, will get killed because of this.”

Schindler comments, “Her defense seems to be that neither she nor anybody on her staff were able to recognize that top secret information was actually top secret, which is hardly a ringing endorsement of Hillary’s qualifications to be our next commander-in-chief.” (The New York Observer, 2/1/2016)

Four days later, a NBC News article comments on the same topic with more modest claims. According to unnamed US officials, the references to undercover officers were indirect and Clinton made no comment about them.

The article adds, “Some of the references to covert intelligence officers, and other discussions of CIA drone strikes, were against classification rules and were ‘sloppy,’ one official said. But views are split on whether they were damaging to national security.” (NBC News, 2/4/2016)

February 1, 2016: Clinton comments on recent news reports suggesting the FBI’s Clinton investigation is gaining momentum.

She says, “It means the people are selectively leaking and making comments with no basis. We need to let this inquiry run its course, get it resolved.” She adds, “There is nothing new and I think the facts are quite helpful here, it’s a little bit like what the Republicans and others have tried to do with respect to Benghazi.” (Politico, 2/1/2016)

February 1, 2016: Some US intelligence officials are “mad as hell” about Clinton’s deleted emails.

An unnamed Pentagon counterintelligence official expresses concern that some of the 30,840 emails Clinton deleted may have been work-related. “I’ll spend the rest of my career trying to figure out what classified information was in those. […] Everybody is mad as hell right now.” This official adds, “The worst part is that Moscow and Beijing have that information but the [US] Intelligence Community maybe never will.” (The New York Observer, 2/1/2016)

February 1, 2016: A politician who saw Clinton’s top secret emails says it’s obvious they contained classified information.

Representative Mike Pompeo (Credit: public domain)

Representative Mike Pompeo (Credit: public domain)

Representative Mike Pompeo (R), who sits on the House Intelligence Committee and has seen the unreleased 22 “top secret” Clinton emails, says, “There is no way that someone, a senior government official who has been handling classified information for a good chunk of their adult life, could not have known that this information ought to be classified, whether it was marked or not. Anyone with the capacity to read and an understanding of American national security, an 8th grade reading level or above, would understand that the release of this information or the potential breach of a non-secure system presented risk to American national security.”

He adds, “Anytime our national security team determines that there’s a potential breach, that is information that might potentially have fallen into the hands of the Iranians, or the Russians, or the Chinese, or just hackers, that they begin to operate in a manner that assumes that information has in fact gotten out.” (The Washington Post, 2/2/2016)

February 2, 2016: Clinton’s use of a private email server was allegedly “planned in advance.”

Inspector General Howard Krongard (Credit: public domain)

Inspector General Howard Krongard (Credit: public domain)

Former State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard says that State Department must have known about Clinton’s use of a private email server from the start, because they never opened an official .gov email account for her, as they did with previous secretaries of state. He says, “This was all planned in advance” to protect her from “internal investigations.” (The Hill, 2/3/2016) 

Krongard was the department’s inspector general from 2005 to 2007. He resigned after Congressional Democrats accused him of blocking investigations of waste and fraud of the US occupation of Iraq. (The Los Angeles Times, 12/8/2007)

February 2, 2016: The FBI won’t reveal the scope of their Clinton investigation.

James A. Baker (Credit: public domain

James A. Baker (Credit: public domain

In an official letter to a State Department official, FBI lawyer James A. Baker writes, the FBI “has acknowledged generally that it is working on matters related to former Secretary Clinton’s use of a private email server. The FBI has not, however, publicly acknowledged the specific focus, scope, or potential targets of any such proceedings.” He says that to reveal more would endanger an on-going investigation. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2/2/2016) (The Hill, 2/8/2016)

February 3, 2016: A State Department official claims someone tried to hack her private email account two years earlier, in early 2014.

Wendy Sherman (Credit: Alex Wong / Getty Images)

Wendy Sherman (Credit: Alex Wong / Getty Images)

Wendy Sherman is interviewed by the FBI. Sherman served as deputy secretary of state under Clinton (the third highest ranking post), and as under secretary of state for political affairs. Her name will later be redacted in the FBI summary of the interview, but the Daily Caller will identify the interviewee as Sherman due to details mentioned elsewhere in the interview.

Sherman served as chief negotiator on a nuclear deal between the US and Iran, which was agreed to in 2014. In the FBI summary of her interview, she said that she was not aware of any specific instances where she was notified of a potential hack of her State Department or personal email accounts or those of other department employees. However, she “explained [she] was sure people tried to hack into [her] personal email account and the accounts of [redacted] team approximately two years ago during [redacted] in the Iran negotiations. Specifically, [redacted] received a similar email. [She] reported the incident to [State Department] Diplomatic Security who reportedly traced the emails back to a [redacted].”

Elsewhere in the interview, she said that it “was not uncommon for [her] to have to use [her] personal Gmail account to communicate while on travel, because there were often times [she] could not access her [State Department] unclassified account.”

The Daily Caller will later comment, “While it is no surprise that hackers would attempt to infiltrate the negotiating teams’ email accounts — the US government has robust spy operations that try to do the same thing — Sherman’s use of a personal account while overseas likely increased her chances of being hacked.” (The Daily Caller, 9/24/2016) (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/23/2016)

February 3, 2016: Clinton’s top secret emails are said to reveal sources, methods, and assets.

Representative Chris Stewart (Credit: The Salt Lake Tribune)

Representative Chris Stewart (Credit: The Salt Lake Tribune)

Representative Chris Stewart (R), a member of the House Intelligence Committee who has viewed Clinton’s 22 “top secret” emails, says those emails “do reveal classified methods, they do reveal classified sources, and they do reveal human assets.” He adds, “I can’t imagine how anyone could be familiar with these emails, whether they’re sending them or receiving them, and not realize that these are highly classified.” (The Washington Post, 2/4/2016

Additionally, he claims that there are seven more Clinton emails with a classification of “top secret” or higher that the government has not publicly mentioned yet. (The Washington Examiner, 2/3/2016) 

The Washington Post reports, “Other sources who have viewed the emails do not describe [them] as strongly, though one official said Clinton’s aides might have put their security clearances at risk.” (The Washington Post, 2/3/2016) 

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D), who as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee has also viewed the emails, claims that none of them originated from Clinton, were not marked as classified at the time, and do not deserve to be marked as such. (Dianne Feinstein, 1/29/2016)

In July 2016, it will be reported that there are eight chains of top secret emails instead of the previously reported seven, suggesting that Stewart was right that there are more than 22. It will also be reported by FBI Director James Comey that some of the top secret emails originated from Clinton, all of them deserved to be marked “top secret,” and all contained classified information when they were sent. (The New York Times, 7/5/2016)

February 4, 2016: Colin Powell writes, “I didn’t tell Hillary to have a private server at home.”

160204kendubersteinwashingtonspeakers

Ken Duberstein (Credit: Washington Speakers)

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell writes an email to former Reagan White House chief of staff Kenneth Duberstein. “I didn’t tell Hillary [Clinton] to have a private server at home, connected to the Clinton Foundation, two contractors, took away 60,000 emails, had her own domain.”

On the same day, in a separate email to Condoleeza Rice, who succeeded him as secretary of state, Powell writes, “Been on the phone and email all afternoon. Hillary and Elijah Cummings have popped off.”

Also on this day, the State Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a memo after reviewing the email practices of the past five secretaries of state. It was determined that 12 emails obtained by the inspector general contained classified national security information, two of which went to the personal email account of Powell and ten of which went to the personal email accounts of the immediate staff of Rice. The memo also states that the information was not marked as classified.

Elijah Cummings (Credit: public domain)

Elijah Cummings (Credit: public domain)

Representative Elijah Cummings (D) releases a statement in response to the OIG’s findings, and concludes, “Based on this new revelation, it is clear that the Republican investigations are nothing more than a transparent political attempt to use taxpayer funds to target the Democratic candidate for President.” (House Oversight Committee, 02/04/16)

Two days later, Rice writes back to Powell, “I don’t think Hillary’s — ‘everyone did it,’ is flying.” (Politico, 09/13/16)

The hacker website DCLeaks.com will publish Colin Powell’s hacked emails on September 13, 2016.

February 4, 2016: Bloomberg News reveals some hints about the contents of Clinton’s 22 “top secret” emails.

Senator Richard Burr (Credit: public domain)

Senator Richard Burr (Credit: public domain)

Bloomberg News reports: “US officials who reviewed the emails tell us they contain the names of U.S. intelligence officers overseas, but not the identities of undercover spies; summaries of sensitive meetings with foreign officials; and information on classified programs like drone strikes and intelligence-collection efforts in North Korea.”

Senate Intelligence Chair Richard Burr, who has also read all 22 emails, also offers some hints. He says Clinton should have known to better protect the information they contain. “They are definitely sensitive. Anybody in the intelligence world would know that the content was sensitive.” (Bloomberg News, 2/4/2016)

February 4, 2016: Clinton still holds a security clearance despite her mishandling of “top secret” information.

Bloomberg News reports that there is a debate in high-level political circles over whether Clinton should be allowed to keep her security clearance or not during the FBI’s Clinton investigation. Predictably, Democrats say she should while Republicans say she shouldn’t. It was reported in late January 2016 that 22 emails on her unapproved private server contained “top secret” and even above “top secret” information. (Bloomberg News, 2/4/2016) 

In October 2015, the State Department reportedly confirmed to Senator Chuck Grassley (R) that Clinton still holds a security clearance for TS/SCI [Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information] the highest-level security clearance, and apparently nothing has changed since then. It is standard practice for high-ranking officials to retain their clearances after leaving office. (The Free Beacon, 10/7/2015)

February 4, 2016: A handful of publicly released Clinton emails make indirect or veiled references to undercover CIA officers.

For instance, a CIA officer is referred to as a “State” Department official, with the quote marks suggesting the person is not actually a diplomat. Another email refers to “OGA,” which stands for “other government agency” and is a common pseudonym within government circles for the CIA. NBC News notes, “The messages at issue are part of a longstanding pattern of senior officials at the State Department and other government agencies trying to talk around classified information over email, sometimes unsuccessfully.” (NBC News, 2/4/2016)

February 4, 2016: Clinton says she is “absolutely” confident she will not be indicted for her email scandal.

At a Democratic presidential primary debate, she says, “I am 100 percent confident, this is a security review requested and carried out that will be resolved.” She adds, “I think the American people will know it’s an absurdity, and I have absolutely no concerns about it whatsoever.”

Senator Bernie Sanders, her rival for the Democratic nomination, has refused to attack Clinton over the scandal. He maintains that stance, saying, “I’m feeling exactly the same way I felt at the first debate. There’s a process under way and I will not politicize it.” (The Hill, 2/4/2016)

February 5, 2016: The State Department completes a review of the email practices of the past five secretaries of state.

Secretary of State Colin Powell (Credit: public domain)

Secretary of State Colin Powell (Credit: public domain)

It finds that Colin Powell received two emails that were classified. And while Condoleezza Rice didn’t use emails, the “immediate staff” working for her received ten emails that were classified. In both cases, the information was deemed either “secret” or “confidential,” but not “top secret,” and was not marked classified when it was sent.

Powell responds by saying about his two emails, “I have reviewed the messages and I do not see what makes them classified. […] The State Department cannot now say they were classified then because they weren’t.” Also, Powell’s emails stayed on government computer servers.

These cases differ from Clinton’s, who had at least some top secret, “born classified” emails on her private server. (CNN, 2/5/2016) Additionally, none of the emails in either the Powell or Rice cases actually contained any intelligence information, and were classified for other, unmentioned reasons. (ABC News, 3/4/2016)

February 5, 2016: The New York Times reveals a few more details about what Clinton’s 22 emails deemed “top secret” contain.

A Reaper drone firing its missile. (Credit: public domain)

A Reaper drone firing its missile. (Credit: public domain)

The Times reports, “It remains unknown what exactly the 22 emails contain, given their classification as ‘top secret,’ but [some US] officials described them generally, on the condition of anonymity. The officials included people familiar with or involved in the handling of the emails in government agencies and in Congress.”

  • Officials from US intelligence agencies have battled with State Department officials over what should be considered classified in Clinton’s emails, with the intelligence agencies arguing for more classification and the State Department arguing for less. But in the case of Clinton’s 22 top secret emails, even the State Department agreed that all 22 should be deemed top secret or even above top secret.
  • The emails comprise seven distinct email chains, and most of those chains involve discussions of the CIA drone program. The Obama administration has generally considered the program highly classified, even though details of it have been widely reported. However, some Clinton’s emails contain unredacted mentions of the drone program, so it is the discussion of certain details of the drone program that merit a top secret classification. For instance, some of the top secret emails include an email discussion relating to an unnamed New York Times article that “contained sensitive information about the intelligence surrounding the CIA’s drone activities, particularly in Pakistan.”
  • At least one of the email chains was started by Richard Holbrooke, “who as the administration’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan would have been intimately involved in dealing with the ramifications of drone strikes.” He died in December 2010.
  • “Some of the emails” include information deemed “top secret/SAP,” which means “special access programs.” The Times calls these programs “among the government’s most closely guarded secrets.”
  • “At least one of the emails contain[s] oblique references to CIA operatives.” One email has been given a designation of “HCS-O,” which indicates the information came from human intelligence sources. However, officials say that “none of the emails mention specific names of CIA officers or the spy agency’s sources.” (The New York Times, 2/5/2016)

February 8, 2016: The Justice Department seems to be against appointing a special prosecutor for Clinton’s email scandal.

Melanie Newman (Credit: public domain)

Melanie Newman (Credit: public domain)

Department spokesperson Melanie Newman says in a statement, “This matter is being reviewed by career attorneys and investigators and does not meet the criteria for the appointment of a special prosecutor.” There has been increasing pressure, especially from Republicans, to appoint a special prosecutor.

Many worry about a potential conflict of interest if Attorney General Loretta Lynch were to head any prosecution. Although Lynch isn’t seen as personally close to Hillary Clinton, Lynch was appointed to be the US attorney for the Eastern District of New York by President Bill Clinton in 1999. Furthermore, there is speculation that Lynch might keep her job as attorney general if Clinton wins the presidential election in November 2016, giving her a personal investment in the outcome of any prosecution.

Senate Judiciary Committee chair Charles Grassley (R) has said that a special prosecutor would reassure Americans that decisions are made “without regard to any political considerations.” Donald Trump, the frontrunner in the Republican presidential primaries, said in October 2015, “I think they probably won’t indict her, because the attorney general is from New York, who I believe is a friend of Hillary Clinton.” (The Hill, 2/8/2016)

February 9, 2016—February 22, 2016: The FBI is unable to obtain any of Clinton’s BlackBerrys to examine them; two useful Clinton iPads are found, but they only contain three previously unknown emails.

The FBI’s Clinton email investigation determines that Clinton used 11 BlackBerrys while she was secretary of state, and two more using the same phone number after she left office. On February 9, 2016, the Justice Department requests all 13 BlackBerrys from Williams & Connolly, the law firm of Clinton’s personal lawyer David Kendall.

Williams & Connolly replies on February 22, 2016 that they were unable to locate any of them. As a result, the FBI is unable to acquire or forensically examine any of Clinton’s BlackBerrys.

The FBI also identifies five iPads associated with Clinton which she could have used to send emails. The FBI obtains three of them, though it’s not clear if they come from Williams & Connolly or other sources. One iPad was given away by Clinton shortly after she bought it, so it is not examined by the FBI.

Out of the other two, one contains three previously unknown Clinton emails from 2012 in the “drafts”” folder. The FBI assesses the three emails and determines they don’t contain any potentially classified information. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)

February 10, 2016: As many as 30 different people were included in the 22 known “top secret” messages sent to Clinton.

Clinton (left) and Jake Sullivan (right) (Credit: The Associated Press)

Clinton (left) and Jake Sullivan (right) (Credit: The Associated Press)

An unnamed US official claims that top Clinton aides including Cheryl Mills, Huma Abedin, Philippe Reines, Jake Sullivan, and Patrick Kennedy were CCed on at least some of those emails. (The Hill, 2/10/2016) 

Jake Sullivan, Clinton’s top national security and foreign policy staffer, sent 215 classified emails to Clinton, more than anyone else. (The Washington Post, 3/5/2016He is said to be the author of at least one of the emails sent to Clinton that was later deemed “top secret,” and he may be responsible for others.

Politico reports, “Sullivan both initiated email conversations and also forwarded along messages with sensitive information, and he sometimes added additional content on the email chains in question, according to [our] sources.” As a result, Sullivan could face extra scrutiny from FBI investigators.

Another source says about three of Clinton’s top aides sent her highly classified material. (Politico, 2/10/2016)

February 10, 2016: Journalist Carl Bernstein comments on Clinton’s email scandal.

Carl Bernstein (Credit: Stonybrook University

Carl Bernstein (Credit: Stonybrook University

“I think she has to acknowledge she has made terrible misjudgments and errors particularly on the server. Look. The vast right wing conspiracy didn’t put the server in her damn closet.” Bernstein, along with Bob Woodward, is best known for breaking the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. (CNN, 2/10/2016)

February 16, 2016: It is discovered that three Clinton aides used email accounts from Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign for State Department work.

According to Politico, recently discovered emails show that three of Clinton’s former staffers used accounts from a domain linked to Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. Clinton’s chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, used the account cmills@hillaryclinton.com in an April 5, 2009 email. Clinton’s deputy chief of staff, Huma Abedin, used the account habedin@hillaryclinton.com in a February 22, 2012 email. And Clinton’s computer technician, Bryan Pagliano, used the account bpagliano@hillaryclinton.com in a March 21, 2010 email. These accounts apparently are in addition to other work and personal emails used by all three people.

These discoveries lead the conservative government watchdog group Cause of Action to write a letter to Judiciary chair Charles Grassley (R) and Oversight chair Jason Chaffetz (R), asking them to look into whether Mills, Abedin, and Pagliano have turned over all their work emails from the domain, and whether other Clinton aides also had hillaryclinton.com accounts that were used for work. The group also wants to know why the domain was kept active long after Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign was over, and who was paying for it. Furthermore, the group questions if the use of such email accounts could violate the Hatch Act, which bars campaign activities from crossing into official government duties. (Politico, 2/16/2016) (US Department of State, 7/31/2015) (US Department of State, 5/13/2015) (US Department of State, 1/15/2016)

February 18, 2016 and May 3, 2016: A Platte River Networks employee is interviewed twice by the FBI and gives contradictory answers.

Paul Combetta (Credit: public domain)

Paul Combetta (Credit: public domain)

Platte River Networks (PRN) is the computer company managing Clinton’s private server from June 2013 until at least October 2015, and PRN employee Paul Combetta played a pivotal role in the deletion of Clinton’s emails from her server.

On February 18, 2016, Combetta is interviewed by the FBI for the first time. He says that between March 25 and 31, 2015, he realized he failed to change the email retention policy on Clinton’s email account on her server, as Clinton’s lawyer (and former chief of staff) Cheryl Mills told him to do in December 2014. This would result in the deletion of some of her emails after 60 days. However, he claims that despite this realization, he still didn’t take any action. Additionally, on March 9, 2015, Mills sent him and other PRN employees an email which mentioned that the House Benghazi Committee had made a formal request to preserve Clinton’s emails. Combetta tells the FBI that he didn’t recall seeing the preservation request referenced in the email.

On May 3, 2016, Combetta has a follow-up FBI interview, and his answers on key issues completely contradict what he said before. This time, he says that when he realized between March 25 and 31, 2015 that he forgot to change the email retention policy on Clinton’s email account, he had an “oh shit!” moment. Then, instead of finally changing the policy settings, he entirely deleted Clinton’s email mailbox from the server,  and used the BleachBit computer program to effectively wipe the data to make sure it could never be recovered. He also deleted a Datto back-up of the data. And he did all this without consulting anyone in PRN or working for Clinton. Furthermore, he admits that he was aware of the mention in the March 9, 2015 email from Mills mentioning the Congressional request to preserve Clinton’s emails.

A September 2016 FBI report will simply note these contradictions. There will be no explanation why Combetta was not indicted for lying to the FBI, obstruction of justice, and other possible charges. There also will be no explanation why his answers changed so much in his second FBI interview, such as him possibly being presented with new evidence that contradicted what he’d said before. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)

February 18, 2016: Cheryl Mills still has her US government security clearance.

This is according to a State Department document. Mills was Clinton’s chief of staff during Clinton’s time as secretary of state, and it is widely believed that she is one of the people under FBI investigation for security-related issues. (US Department of State, 2/18/2016) 

McClatchy Newspapers has noted that “it’s common practice to suspend [security clearances] while an investigation or internal inquiry is ongoing, according to some national security experts on Capitol Hill and in private practice.” (McClatchy Newspapers, 9/30/2015) 

The New York Observer later calls it “miraculous” that Mills still has her security clearance, since “the very first thing normally done to any persons involved in an FBI espionage investigation…would be to pull their clearances at once.” (The New York Observer, 3/4/2016)

February 22, 2016: The FBI trusts Clinton’s account and does not check if her latest private server contains any of her old emails.

In December 2014, a hrcoffice.com domain was created on a different private server, and apparently Clinton switched to using an email account on that server around that time.

On February 22, 2016, Williams & Connolly, the law firm of Clinton’s personal lawyer David Kendall, tells the FBI in a letter: “Secretary Clinton did not transfer her clintonemail.com emails for the time period January 21, 2009 through February 1, 2013 to her hrcoffice.com account.” This time period represents Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state.

The FBI apparently trusts Clinton’s lawyer. A September 2016 FBI report will state: “The investigation found no evidence Clinton’s hrcoffice.com account contained or contains potentially classified information or emails from her tenure as secretary of state. The FBI has, therefore, not requested or obtained equipment associated with Clinton’s hrcoffice.com account.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)

February 23, 2016: Secretary of State Kerry declines to answer if Clinton’s emails harmed US intelligence.

Senator Ron Johnson (Credit: John Shinkle / Politico)

Senator Ron Johnson (Credit: John Shinkle / Politico)

Senator Ron Johnson (R) asks Secretary of State John Kerry if he knows whether the US intelligence community has had to “mitigate the harm by the potential that our enemies might have access to that classified material that’s on Secretary Clinton’s server.”

Kerry replies, “I would not be able to discuss that in an open session.”

Then when asked by Johnson about letting his staff use a private server to send and receive classified information, Kerry responds, “In today’s world, given all that we’ve learned and what we understand about the vulnerability of our system, we don’t do that, no.” (The Hill, 2/23/2016) (The Daily Caller, 2/23/2016)

February 23, 2016: Top Clinton aides will be questioned under oath in a civil suit.

Huma Abedin uses her smart phone in Charleston, South Carolina, on February 26, 2016. (Credit: Getty Images)

Huma Abedin uses her smart phone in Charleston, South Carolina, on February 26, 2016. (Credit: Getty Images)

US District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan rules that Clinton aides Huma Abedin, Bryan Pagliano, Cheryl Mills, Patrick Kennedy, and others would likely be questioned about Clinton’s use of her private email server. There is no immediate plan to question Clinton herself, but that could change. Sullivan’s ruling is in response to Judicial Watch, which has been seeking to determine if Clinton’s server thwarted federal open records laws. Sullivan comments that months of news about the email scandal has created “at least a reasonable suspicion” that public access to government records has been undermined.

Sullivan was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1994. The judge gives Judicial Watch and government lawyers until April 12, 2016 to create a plan to proceed. The Washington Post notes this creates “the prospect that key Clinton aides would face questions just as she tries to secure the Democratic nomination and pivot to a hotly contested November general election.” (The Washington Post, 2/23/2016)

February 23, 2016: A federal judge asks about failure to turn over Clinton records: “How in the world could this happen?”

Judge Emmet Sullivan (Credit: public domain)

Judge Emmet Sullivan (Credit: public domain)

US District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan, presiding over a lawsuit relating to Clinton’s emails, expresses puzzlement over the scandal. He notes that Clinton put the State Department in the position of having to ask her to return thousands of government records. He asks in a hearing, “Am I missing something? How in the world could this happen?” (The Washington Post, 3/27/2016) He adds, “It just boggles the mind a little that the State Department allowed this practice to occur in the first place. It is very, very troubling.” (CNN, 2/23/2016) He also comments, “There has been a constant drip, drip, drip of declarations. When does it stop? This case is about the public’s right to know.” (The Washington Post, 2/23/2016)

February 24, 2016: Attorney General Loretta Lynch speaks about the Justice Department’s role in prosecuting the Clinton email scandal.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch (Credit: Empower Magazine)

Attorney General Loretta Lynch (Credit: Empower Magazine)

Lynch tells a House committee, “This will be conducted as every other case and we will review all the facts and all the evidence and come to an independent conclusion as to how to best handle it. […] With respect to our investigation into how information was handled by the State Department, how they handled classified information, as I’m sure you know that matter is being handled by career, independent law enforcement agents, FBI agents as well as the career, independent attorneys in the Department of Justice. They follow the evidence. They look at the law. And they’ll make a recommendation to me when the time is appropriate.” (Politico, 2/24/2016) 

FBI Director James Comey is expected to decide whether or not to recommend indictment of Clinton and/or any of her aides. Then, if any indictment is recommended, Lynch would decide whether to act on it or not. (The Washington Post, 3/2/2016)

February 24, 2016: Former CIA Director Michael Hayden suggests that Clinton’s private server was almost certainly hacked by foreign governments.

CIA Director Michael Hayden (Credit: GovTechWorks)

CIA Director Michael Hayden (Credit: GovTechWorks)

Hayden is the only person ever to head both the National Security Agency (NSA) and the CIA. He says, “I would lose all respect for a whole bunch of foreign intelligence agencies if they weren’t sitting back, paging through the emails” of Clinton.

He adds, “Once you’ve set it up [as she did], nobody has to be stupid, lazy, unintelligent—it’s gone bad. You’re going to end up with information on this private server that just shouldn’t be there, let alone all the questions about preserving government records. […] How much energy would I expend if I were still director of the National Security Agency and someone told me I could get access to the unclassified email server of [Russian Foreign Minister] Sergei Lavrov? I’d move heaven and Earth to do that. And here you’ve got these private, intimate conversations by a senior official of the US government sitting out there in what I would call an unprotected environment.”

Hayden was appointed head of the NSA by President Bill Clinton and then head of the CIA by President George W. Bush. (USA Today, 2/24/2016)

February 26, 2016: Clinton calls the FBI’s investigation into her emails a “security inquiry,” not a formal investigation.

In an interview, she says the two are frequently confused with each other. She adds, “I am personally not concerned about it. I think there will be a resolution of the security inquiry.”

However, the New York Times will comment several days later, “The FBI’s case did begin as a security referral from the inspectors general of the State Department and the nation’s intelligence agencies, who were concerned that classified information might have been stored outside a secure government network. But multiple law enforcement officials said the matter quickly became an investigation into whether anyone had committed a crime in handling classified information.” (The New York Times, 3/2/2016) (MSNBC, 2/26/2016)

February 27, 2016: Jake Sullivan is interviewed by the FBI; he claims he never felt any unease about the many above top secret emails he sent to Clinton.

Clinton and Sullivan have a discussion during the Benghazi Committee hearing on October 22, 2015. (Credit: Saul Loeb / Agence France Presse/ Getty Images)

Clinton and Sullivan have a discussion during the House Benghazi Committee hearing on October 22, 2015. (Credit: Saul Loeb / Agence France Presse/ Getty Images)

When Clinton was secretary of state, Sullivan first served as her deputy chief of staff for policy and then as the director of policy planning. The interview will remain secret until it’s mentioned in a September 2016 FBI report.

The FBI determined that seven email chains containing 22 emails were sent by Sullivan to Clinton were later deemed classified at the “top secret/Special Access Program” (TP/SAP) level, which is above “top secret.”

As a result, much of the interview regards these emails. The FBI asks Sullivan to review about 14 emails he sent or received “on unclassified systems” that were later determined to contain classified information up to the TS/SAP level.

Sullivan gives some reasons why the emails may have been sent on Clinton’s unclassified server. According to the FBI, “With respect to the SAP, Sullivan stated that it was discussed on unclassified systems due to the operational tempo at that time, and State [Department] employees attempted to talk around classified information. Sullivan also indicated that, for some of the emails, information about the incidents described therein may have already appeared in news reports. … Sullivan did not recall any instances in which he felt uneasy about information conveyed on unclassified systems, nor any instances in which others expressed concerns about the handling of classified information at State.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)

Sullivan will also give his explanation of an email in which he wanted to send her a secure fax, but the fax machine wasn’t working and she told him to “send nonsecure.”

February 29, 2016: Final totals show over 2,000 of Clinton’s emails contained classified information.

The last batch of Clinton’s private emails are publicly released. Out of the 30,490 emails, 22 are deemed “top secret,” which is the highest level of classification. 65 are deemed “secret,” the middle level. 2,028 are “confidential,” the lowest level. That means that 2,115 emails, or seven percent of the total, have some classified ranking. 104 of the classified emails were sent by Clinton herself.

It has been reported that Clinton gave the State Department 30,490 emails, and 30,068 of these were ultimately released. Of the remaining 422 emails, 19 are emails between Clinton and President Obama that have not been released, and one more email withheld because it is part of a continuing investigation. It is not known why the remaining 402 have not been released. (The New York Times, 2/29/2016

However, it has been reported that some emails were returned to Clinton after a determination they were not work-related, so that could explain the discrepancy. (Politico, 9/4/2015)

February 29, 2016: Clinton’s 2,000 “confidential” emails could still be signs of serious crimes.

With all of the Clinton work emails publicly released, it is clear that the vast majority of her emails later deemed classified are considered “confidential.” 2,028 of her 2,115 classified emails have that ranking, which is the lowest classification ranking. (The New York Times, 2/29/2016) 

However, the Daily Beast has reported, “Excuses that most of [them] are considered ‘confidential’… cut no ice with many insiders. Although the compromise of information at that level is less damaging… it is still a crime that’s taken seriously by counterintelligence professionals. Most of the classified emails that Hillary and her staff seem to have compromised dealt with diplomatic discussions, which is a grave indiscretion as far as diplomats worldwide are concerned.” (The Daily Beast, 9/2/2015) 

Almost three-fourths of Clinton’s classified emails are deemed to contain “foreign government information,” meaning sensitive information from, to, or about foreign governments. (The New York Times, 5/10/2016)