Woolsey, who was CIA director from 1993 to 1995 under President Bill Clinton, comments on Clinton’s email scandal: “What is really wrong here was setting up this separate email system and using it for government work. If anybody wants to set one up and use it for yoga appointments, wedding planning, okay, fine. But to have a server in a bathroom closet in Colorado that is dealing with potentially extremely classified material because it is material that is passing through the secretary of state’s conversations with her staff, that’s really very irresponsible. It is a felony. I think and there are some ways of dealing with this, putting something in the wrong place and making a mistake that are only a misdemeanor. But we’ve had now several of my successors in the intelligence business at senior levels plead to charges and be in situations where it is clear they violated the law, around some of those things look very similar to what has happened here.” (Fox News, 8/20/2015)
Paul Combetta, an employee of Platte River Networks (PRN), sends an email to Leif McKinley, an employee of Datto, Inc. PRN is managing Clinton’s private server, and Datto has been subcontracted by PRN to provide back-up for the server. Combetta writes: “We are trying to tighten down every possible security angle on this customer. It occurs to us that anyone at PRN with access to the Datto Partner Portal (i.e. everyone here) could potentially access this device via the remote web feature. Can we set up either two-factor authentication, or move this device to a separate partner account, or some other method (disable remote web access altogether?) to allow only who we permit on our end to access this device via the Internet?” (US Congress, 9/12/2016)
On May 14, 2015, a photo of PRN employees was posted to their website and suggests the number of employees working there at the time to be approximately 28. (Platte River Networks, 5/14/15)
In September 2016, after the email is publicly released, Representative Jason Chaffetz (R) will comment, “If I understand the email correctly, every single employee of PRN could have accessed some of the most highly classified national security information that’s ever been breached at the State Department.” (US Congress, 9/13/2016)
Platte River Networks (PRN) is the computer company that has been managing Clinton’s private server. In August 2015, the Senate Homeland Security Committee asked PRN for a staff-level briefing on the server, and got one later that month.
In early September 2015, Congressional investigators communicate with Ken Eichner, a lawyer working for PRN, asking to interview five employees in Denver, Colorado, where PRN is located. But on September 17, 2015, Eichner writes in an email, “I am going to respectfully decline [permission for] any interviews.”
In September 2015, some PRN employees are interviewed by the FBI, but details of that remain unknown. In November 2015, it will be reported that PRN isn’t cooperating with Congressional investigators at all, and isn’t allowing Datto, Inc., a company it subcontracted to help back up Clinton’s server, to cooperate either. (Politico, 11/13/2015)
Platte River Network (PRN) is the company that has been managing Clinton’s private server since June 2013. In November 2015, Politico will report that the FBI interviewed some PRN employees in September 2015. This will be confirmed by PRN spokesperson Andy Boian. The same month, PRN turns down a request for the Senate Homeland Security Committee to interview five of its employees.
It isn’t known how many employees are interviewed by the FBI or who they are. The FBI Clinton email investigation’s final report released in September 2016 will make no mention of any PRN interviews in 2015 at all (though there could be mentions that are redacted).
However, it will later be revealed that PRN only had two employees doing the work on the Clinton server, and one of them was Paul Combetta, so it seems likely he would be interviewed. But the FBI report will say that Combetta was only interviewed twice, both times in 2016. It will later be revealed that Combetta was the person who deleted and then wiped all of Clinton’s emails from her server. (Politico, 11/13/2015)
Former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor turned whistleblower and international fugitive Edward Snowden says that lower-level government employees would “not only lose their jobs, [but] would very likely face prosecution” for doing that. He adds, “Anyone who has the clearances that the secretary of state has or the director of any top level agency has knows how classified information should be handled. When the unclassified systems of the United States government—which has a full time information security staff—regularly get hacked, the idea that someone keeping a private server in the renovated bathroom of a server farm in Colorado, is more secure is completely ridiculous.” (Al Jazeera America, 9/3/2015)
The last statement is a reference to the fact that Platte River Networks, which managed Clinton’s server from June 2013 until August 2015, did in fact keep her server in a renovated bathroom. (The Daily Mail, 8/18/2015)
Platte River Networks (PRN) managed her server from mid-2013 to early August 2015. PRN spokesperson Andy Boian says, “Platte River has no knowledge of the server being wiped.” He adds, “All the information we have is that the server wasn’t wiped.” The Washington Post says this is “the strongest indication to date that tens of thousands of emails that Clinton has said were deleted could be recovered.”
If a server is not wiped, which is a process that include overwriting data several times, deleted content can often be recovered. Clinton and her staff have avoided answering if the server was wiped or not. (The Washington Post, 9/12/2015)
However, a 2016 FBI report will conclude that in late March 2015, a PRN employee named Paul Combetta used a computer program named BleachBit that effectively deleted Clinton’s emails so they couldn’t be later recovered by the FBI. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)
Platte River Networks (PRN) has been managing Clinton’s private server since June 2013, and since that time they used the service of another company, Datto, Inc., to make back-ups of the data on the server. As a result, they need PRN’s permission to share data.
On this day, David Kendall, Clinton’s personal lawyer, and PRN agree to allow Datto to turn over the data from the backup server to the FBI. This is according to an unname person familiar with Datto’s storage, quoted in McClatchy Newspapers four days later.
Datto says in a statement that “with the consent of our client and their end user, and consistent with our policies regarding data privacy, Datto is working with the FBI to provide data in conjunction with its investigation.”
However, according to McClatchy Newspapers, the unnamed source says “that Platte River had set up a 60-day retention policy for the backup server, meaning that any emails to which incremental changes were made at least 60 days prior would be deleted and ‘gone forever.’ While the server wouldn’t have been ‘wiped clean,’ the source said, any underlying data likely would have been written over and would be difficult to recover.” (McClatchy Newspapers, 10/6/2015)
It appears that the FBI does get data from Datto over the next couple of weeks, because an October 23, 2015 letter from Datto to the FBI will refer to some Datto back-up data that is now in the FBI’s possession. (US Congress, 9/12/2016)
A Datto back-up device was attached to the server, and the data was backed up to the “cloud” as well. It is unknown if the FBI ever gets useful data from the cloud copy.
Although the mainstream media in 2015 generally mentions only one Clinton email server, there actually are two in existence at this time. Both are located at an Equinix data center in Secaucus, New Jersey, and both are managed by Platte River Networks (PRN).
Clinton’s emails and other data had been transferred from the old server (which the FBI will later call the “Pagliano Server”) to the new server (which the FBI will call the “PRN Server”) in late June 2013, leaving the old server mostly empty but still running. On August 12, 2015, the FBI only picked up the old server for analysis.
A September 2016 FBI report will explain, “At the time of the FBI’s acquisition of the Pagliano Server, Williams & Connolly [the law firm of Clinton’s personal lawyer David Kendall] did not advise the US government of the existence of the additional equipment associated with the Pagliano Server, or that Clinton’s clintonemail.com emails had been migrated to the successor PRN Server remaining at Equinix. The FBI’s subsequent investigation identified this additional equipment and revealed the email migration.”
The report will continue, “As a result, on October 3, 2015, the FBI obtained, via consent provided by Clinton through Williams & Connolly, both the remaining Pagliano Server equipment and the PRN Server, which had remained operational and was hosting Clinton’s personal email account until it was disconnected and produced to the FBI.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)
On October 5, 2015, Steven Cash, a lawyer for Datto, Inc., receives a letter from Senator Ron Johnson (R), chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. Johnson’s is conducting oversight of the FBI’s Clinton investigation and he wants Datto to answer questions and turn over copies of documents by October 19, 2015. Platte River Networks (PRN) is managing Clinton’s private server, and they have subcontarcted with Datto to provide back-up services. As part of Datto’s contact with PRN, Datto needs PRN’s permission before they can share any information relating to the case.
So the next day, Cash emails Ken Eichner, lawyer for PRN, and asks permission.
Eichner emails him back later that same day, “Steven, no objection.” (US Congress, 9/12/2016)
However, on October 19, 2015, the date of the deadline set by the committee, Datto sends the committee saying the company can’t answer most questions because although PRN originally gave Datto permission, “counsel to Platte River withdrew their previous non-objection, and objected to any further disclosure of confidential information to the committee. Consequently, Datto is not authorized to disclose such information absent consent from its client, Platte River, or unless required by law or by order of court or governmental agency.”
On November 13, 2015, PRN spokesperson Andy Boian will be quoted in a Politico article, saying, “There was a suggestion by our legal counsel and the legal counsel of Datto that everything has been turned over regarding the Clinton matter by Datto, so there wasn’t an extraordinary need for Datto to do anything else. There wasn’t anymore information that Datto could provide that Platte River couldn’t, so there was a suggestion that any inquiry that goes to Datto … comes through us. And that’s just out of pure convenience.” (Politico, 11/13/2015)
The next day, Cash will email Eichner again and complain that the “description of communications between Platte River and Datto counsel attributed to Mr. Boian is not accurate, and leaves the reader with a distinctly false impression.” Cash points out that he is the only Datto lawyer who has talked to any PRN lawyers, so he knows this quote is untrue. He sends a copy of this complaint to Senator Johnson. (US Congress, 9/12/2016)
The idea that Datto has no other information to provide is clearly untrue. It will turn over documents containing previously released information after they are served subpoena to do so in September 2016.
On October 19, 2015, Complete Colorado reports that Platte River Networks (PRN), the company managing Clinton’s private server, drafted an invoice to Clinton’s representatives, asking to be reimbursed for legal and public relations (PR) expenses relating to the Clinton email controversy.
The invoice totals at least $44,000, but it may be incomplete. The expenses were incurred from late July 2015 to mid-September 2015. The only PRN employee mentioned by name in the invoice is Paul Combetta. In September 2016, it will be revealed that he was one of two PRN employees handling Clinton’s server, and he deleted all of Clinton’s emails from the server. (Complete Colorado, 10/19/2015)
However, on November 13, 2015, Politico will report that the Clinton campaign says Clinton is not paying PRN’s legal and PR bills, and Clinton never received the invoice. (Politico, 11/13/2015)
During Clinton’s testimony under oath before the House Benghazi Committee, Representative Jim Jordan (R) asks her about her private email server or servers. “[T]here was one server on your property in New York, and a second server hosted by a Colorado company in — housed in New Jersey. Is that right? There were two servers?”
Clinton replies, “No. … There was a… there was a server…”
“Just one?” Jordan presses.
Clinton continues, “…that was already being used by my husband’s [Bill Clinton’s] team. An existing system in our home that I used. And then later, again, my husband’s office decided that they wanted to change their arrangements, and that’s when they contracted with the company in Colorado,” Platte River Networks.
Jordan asks, “And so there’s only one server? Is that what you’re telling me? And it’s the one server that the FBI has?”
Clinton answers, “The FBI has the server that was used during the tenure of my State Department service.”
She dodges giving an answer, despite being further pressed on the issue. (The Washington Post, 10/22/2015)
However, in a public speech on July 5, 2016, FBI Director James Comey will reveal that Clinton “used several different servers and administrators of those servers during her four years at the State Department, and used numerous mobile devices to view and send email on that personal domain. As new servers and equipment were employed, older servers were taken out of service, stored, and decommissioned in various ways… (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 7/5/2016)
Two days later, Comey will be questioned under oath in a Congressional hearing by Representative Trey Gowdy (R). Gowdy will refer to Clinton’s testimony on this day when he asks, “Secretary Clinton said she used just one device. Was that true?”
Comey will answer, “She used multiple devices during the four years of her term as secretary of state.”
Later in the hearing, Representative Jason Chaffetz (R) will promise to give the FBI a referral from Congress so the FBI can investigate the truthfulness of this and other comments Clinton made under oath. (Politico, 7/7/2016)
Steven Cash is a lawyer for Datto, Inc., the company that has been backing up the data on Clinton’s private server. They have been subcontracted to do this by Platte River Networks (PRN), the company managing the server. Cash emails an unnamed FBI agent, informing him of several issues to be aware of prior to a conference call planned for later that day.
A Datto hard drive, the Datto SIRIS S2000, has been attached to Clinton’s server since June 2013. Cash says that Datto technical experts have reviewed administrative files and discovered through the device’s Internet interface that a series of deletions took place on the device on March 31, 2015, between 11:27 a.m. and 12:41 a.m. The data had a date range from January 28, 2015 to March 24, 2015.
Furthermore, a much greater amount of data had been “deleted automatically based on the local device’s then-configured pruning parameters.” Cash writes that “These manual requests were requested from the Local Device’s web interface for the [redacted] agent…” (US Congress, 9/12/2016) While it is possible a person’s is in the redacted space, it could also be something such as “PRN employee.”
In a May 2016 FBI interview, PRN employee Paul Combetta will confess to deleting all of Clinton’s emails on her server as well as the Datto back-up device in precisely this time period, between March 25, 2015 and March 31, 2015. It is not known if the FBI knew of the deletions prior to this letter from Datto. However, the letter certainly makes it clear, but this will not become public knowledge until an FBI report released in September 2016, almost one year later.
Platte River Networks (PRN) is the computer company that has been managing Clinton’s private server since June 2013. Politico reports that it has declined requests by the Senate Homeland Security Committee to interview five employees about the security of Clinton’s server.
Additionally, Datto, Inc. was employed by PRN to back up data from the server. On October 6, 2015, McClatchy Newspapers quoted Datto’s attorney who said the company had permission from representatives of Clinton and Platte River to cooperate with the FBI investigation. But on October 19, 2015, Datto told the committee that it can’t answer questions from the committee because it has a confidentiality agreement with its client PRN and can only answer questions about that account with their permission. PRN gave permission initially but then changed its mind.
PRN spokesperson Andy Boian says that the interview requests from Congress weren’t “formal” inquiries, even though request letters were delivered on official Senate letterhead. He adds, “We as a company have felt like we have done everything we can to comply with every request by both the FBI and the Homeland Security Committee, and we really have nothing left to give.”
Tania Neild, CEO of the technology broker company InfoGrate, helped Clinton select PRN to run their server. She declined to be interviewed by Congressional investigators, invoking a nondisclosure agreement she had with her client.
Another computer company, SECNAP, was involved in the security of the server. They apparently aren’t cooperating with Republican investigators either, because Dennis Nowak, a lawyer for SECNAP, says that communications technology companies are governed by a law that imposes criminal and civil penalties for disclosing customer information, and that can only be waived by subpoena, search warrant, court order, or consent of the client.
These four companies apparently have fully cooperated with the FBI. But Politico reports, “While the firms have voluntarily produced some information for Congressional Republicans in the past, now it seems they’re not willing to go beyond their legal obligations when it comes to responding to committee inquiries.”
In September 2015, Clinton publicly said regarding the FBI’s Clinton investigation that she “would very much urge anybody who is asked to cooperate to do so.” However, Politico asked the Clinton campaign if it had encouraged these computer companies to cooperate with Congressional investigators, and the campaign had no comment. (Politico, 11/13/2015)
These companies will continue to refuse to cooperate with Congress. In August 2016, Congressional Republicans will issue subpoenas to PRN, Datto, and SECNAP to finally force their cooperation.
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)
In late March 2015, Paul Combetta, an employee of Platte River Networks (PRN), deleted all of Clinton’s emails from her private server and then used a computer program to permanently wipe them. Cheryl Mills, one of Clinton’s lawyers and her former chief of staff, had communications with Combetta in that time period, including speaking in a conference call in which he also participated just after the deletions were done, on March 31, 2015.
However, Mills is interviewed by the FBI on this date, and the FBI will later report that “Mills stated she was unaware that [Combetta] had conducted these deletions and modifications in March 2015.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)
Mills’ claim is particularly surprising considering that Mills has continued to work as one of Clinton’s lawyers and in August 2015, it was reported that Clinton’s campaign had acknowledged “that there was an attempt to wipe [Clinton’s private] server before it was turned over last week to the FBI.” (NBC News, 8/19/2015)
In February 2014, an unnamed Platte River Networks (PRN) employee created a Gmail email account and briefly transferred all of Clinton’s emails into it from a back-up of Clinton’s server made in the spring of 2013. He transferred the Clinton emails to a new version of this server, but most of the emails on this server will later be destroyed. He also will tell the FBI that he deleted all of the emails from his Gmail account after completing the transfer.
However, the FBI will later report that on June 21, 2016, FBI investigators discovered 940 Clinton emails that were still on the Gmail account somehow. It has not been explained if the PRN employee simply failed to delete them all or if deleted emails were recovered.
All of the 940 emails date from October 25, 2010 to December 31, 2010. 56 of them were later deemed to be classified at the “confidential” level. 302 of them were not in the over 30,000 emails that Clinton gave to the State Department in December 2014. It has not been specified how many of these were deemed work-related. But of the 302 emails, the FBI gave 18 of them to other departments to for classification review. The State Department decided one email was classified “secret” when it was sent, but then later was downgraded to “confidential.” Another email was “confidential” when it was sent and later downgraded to be unclassified. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)
From around June 2013 until August 2015, Clinton’s private server containing her emails from her time as secretary of state was managed by Platte River Networks. But another company, Datto Inc., was making monthly back-up copies of all the server’s data in the Internet cloud. Datto has 600 employees and is valued at $1 billion, but two people tell the Daily Mail that the company is extremely incompetent.
Marc Tamarin, president of Virtual IT Consulting, was a Datto business partner from 2009 until early 2016. He says he frequently worked with Datto’s technical support, but “Those guys were really morons. They weren’t qualified to handle our back-up and that was the biggest concern for us. … If they’re inept at the basic principles of technology, how are they going to handle something advanced like security? Most companies like mine trust their vendor that they are doing due diligence. I’ve never heard anything this bad before in my life, the dataincompetence was shocking.”
An unnamed former employee, who spent three years at the company, has even more complaints. “If you’re talking about high-level data security, at the political, presidential level, the security level of data [at Datto] … was nowhere near something that could have been protected from a good hacker that knows how to spread out their points at which to infiltrate. It’s not something that Datto was focused on. It was more about getting the data off-site quickly and cost-effectively than securing the data and keeping it from being hacked. There’s no doubt in my mind that someone could easily hack them – even today.”
He calls Datto’s security “a joke.” He claims a potential hacker could walk in off the street and sit down at an unused computer and access all the company’s data. There were no security guards, the receptionists didn’t ask questions of strangers, there was no key card access or other security features, passwords were not regularly changed, and so on. People who said they had lost their security pass would be let in without questions. Unused computers were frequently left on and logged in to the network.
He says, “For years, any Datto employee, even low-level ones, could go in any customer’s device, see their backups, restore files, and delete files.” Oftentimes, Datto customers would find themselves logged into the data of another customer without even wanting to. Datto’s internal servers were hacked in 2010. However, complaints were swept under the rug and security was not improved. (The Daily Mail, 6/30/2016)
Representative Lamar Smith (R), the chair of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, and Senator Ron Johnson (R), the chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, jointly author a letter to Treve Suazo, the CEO of Platte River Networks (PRN). PRN is the company that managed Clinton’s private server from June 2013 until late 2015.
The letter notes that Johnson’s committee has been seeking to interview some PRN employees about the management and security of Clinton’s server since August 2015, while Smith’s has been asking to do the same since January 2016, but PRN has refused all interview requests.
The letter then asks again, specifically requesting to interview the following PRN employees:
- Treve Suazo
- Brent Allshouse
- David DeCamillis
- Paul Combetta
- Sam Hickler
- Bill Thornton
- Craig Papke
The letter requests a response by July 26, 2016. If PRN does not comply, the letter threatens the use of the “compulsory process.” (US Congress, 7/22/2016)
Apparently, PRN will still refuse to agree, because on August 22, 2016 these committees will issue subpoenas for the interviews.
Representative Lamar Smith (R), chair of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, issues subpoenas for Platte River Networks, which managed Clinton’s server from May 2013 until August 2015; Datto, Inc., which made back-up copies of the server; and SECNAP, which carried out threat monitoring of the network connected to Clinton’s server. Smith wants documents from the companies by September 9, 2016, after they declined to voluntarily produce them. Congressional committees requested information since August and November 2015, to no avail. The companies had been threatened with subpoenas on July 12, 2016.
Smith comments, “Companies providing services to Secretary Hillary Clinton’s private email account and server are not above the law.” He claims the information he is seeking is “critical to… informing policy changes in how to prevent similar email arrangements in the future.”
Smith is working with Senator Ron Johnson (R), chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. They are looking for information about breaches or potential breaches, and documents that detail the scope of the work of each company. (The Washington Post, 8/22/2016)
In the FBI’s report on the Clinton email investigation, which is released on this day, it is revealed: “To date, the FBI has recovered from additional data sources and reviewed approximately 17,448 unique work-related and personal emails from Clinton’s tenure [as secretary of state] containing Clinton’s firstname.lastname@example.org email address that were not provided by [Clinton’s law firm] Williams & Connolly as part of Clinton’s production to the FBI, including emails from January 23, 2009 through March 18, 2009.”
The report also mentions that at least some of the emails going back to the time from before March 2009, when Clinton’s first server was replaced by another one, were recovered from the first back-up of all the data on Clinton’s third server, made on June 29, 2013. That was shortly after this new server was turned on and all the data from the previous server was transferred to it.
Clinton has claimed that she kept 30,068 emails from when she was secretary of state, and deleted the other 31,830 as personal. The FBI claims they had trouble recovering all the deleted ones, because an employee of Platte River Networks, the company that managed Clinton’s servers from June 2013 onwards, used a computer program to wipe the server clean in March 2015. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)
It isn’t clear how many of the 17,448 recovered emails come from the June 29, 2013 back-up and how many come from other sources, such as the inboxes of people who sent and received emails from Clinton, or FBI efforts to recover the wiped emails. The FBI also doesn’t mention how many of the recovered emails are work-related. It was reported on July 21, 2016 that the FBI gave about 14,900 of Clinton’s recovered emails to the State Department, and the department has promised to make all the work-related ones public. But it isn’t clear why the 17,448 and 14,900 numbers differ by about 2,500 emails.
The request comes in the form of a letter from Representative Jason Chaffetz (R), chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, to Channing Phillips, the US attorney for the District of Columbia. It asks the Justice Department to “investigate and determine whether Secretary Clinton or her employees and contractors violated statutes that prohibit destruction of records, obstruction of congressional inquiries, and concealment or cover up of evidence material to a congressional investigation.”
Although the FBI ended its Clinton email investigation in July 2016 without recommending an indictment of Clinton or anyone else, newly revealed evidence indicates Platte River Networks (PRN) employee Paul Combetta deleted and wiped all of Clinton’s emails in March 2015. He had communications with Clinton’s lawyers just days before and after the deletions, but the FBI was unable to determine what was said in those communications, possibly due to an assertion of attorney-client privilege. (Salon, 9/6/2016)
Representative Jason Chaffetz (R), chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, writes a letter to Platte River Networks (PRN), the computer company that managed Clinton’s private server since June 2013. Chaffetz warns that one PRN employee, Paul Combetta, could face federal charges for deleting and wiping Clinton’s emails from her server in March 2015. That’s because the House Benghazi Committee had issued a formal order to preserve such records earlier in the month, and Combetta confessed in a later FBI interview that he knew about the order before he made the deletions.
In the letter, Chaffetz says a recent FBI report about the deletions “raises questions to whether [Combetta] violated federal statutes that prohibit destruction of evidence and obstruction of a Congressional investigation.”
Additionally, Combetta took part in conference calls with Clinton’s lawyers just days before and after the deletions, but the FBI was unable to determine what was said in those communications, possibly due to an assertion of attorney-client privilege. In the letter, Chaffetz wants an explanation from PRN how Combetta could refuse to talk to the FBI about the conference calls if the only lawyers involved were Clinton’s. (Salon, 9/6/2016)
The New York Times reveals that the Platte River Networks (PRN) employee mentioned in a recently released FBI report who deleted and then wiped Clinton’s emails from her private server in March 2015 is named Paul Combetta. Furthermore, at some unknown point during the investigation, the FBI gave him an immunity deal. This is “according to a law enforcement official and others briefed on the investigation.”
It was reported in March 2016 that Clinton computer technician Bryan Pagliano got an immunity deal, but Combetta’s deal stayed secret. Even the FBI’s Clinton email investigation final report, released on September 2, 2016, makes no mention of it. The report also redacted every mention of Combetta’s name, but the Times says “the law enforcement official and others familiar with the case identified the employee as Mr. Combetta.”
Clinton spokesperson Brian Fallon says the deletions by Combetta have already been “thoroughly examined by the FBI prior to its decision to close out this case.”
However, many questions remain, including why Combetta got immunity and when. He was interviewed by the FBI twice, and his answers in his second interview sometimes directly contradict his answers in his first interview, meaning he had to have lied to the FBI at least once, which is a felony. In his second interview also admitted to deleting Clinton’s emails despite being aware of a Congressional order to preserve her emails, which would suggest an admission of additional crimes.
Fallon also comments, “As the FBI’s 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.”
The House Oversight Committee has asked PRN employees, including Combetta, to appear at a committee hearing on September 13, 2016, about how the email deletions and other matters. (The New York Times, 9/8/2016)
The Denver Post’s editorial board publishes an editorial on September 8, 2016, entitled “A fishy story in Platte River Networks’ purge of Clinton e-mails.” It focuses on Platte River Networks (PRN) employee Paul Combetta’s FBI interview and his deletion and wiping of Clinton’s emails with a program “wonderfully named BleachBit.”
The editorial mentions Combetta’s “sudden remembrance” to delete the emails, and a subsequent conference call between PRN officials and a “longtime Clinton aide and personal lawyer.” When the FBI eventually attempted to investigate the conference call, they were met with Combetta’s claim of attorney-client privilege. The editorial states, “That just looks awful. So [it’s] little wonder the Republican chairman of the House committee investigating Clinton’s e-mail arrangement — Utah’s Jason Chaffetz — has asked federal prosecutors to investigate whether she or others were involved in the decision to destroy those emails following the preservation order.”
The Post argues “the information from the [FBI’s] summary of its investigation doesn’t sit well. It’s reasonable to ask why the FBI didn’t look deeper. It’s reasonable to ask why [Combetta] would act if, as the logic of the cover story must argue, the emails were simply personal notes about yoga appointments and being a grandmother.”
The editorial agrees with Chaffetz’s call for the Justice Department “to investigate and determine whether Secretary Clinton or her employees and contractors violated statutes that prohibit destruction of records, obstruction of congressional inquiries and concealment of cover-up of evidence material to a congressional committee.” It closes by saying, “something about this story feels whitewashed — or maybe bleached out is the better term for it now.” (The Denver Post, 9/8/2016)
FBI acting legislative affairs officer Jason Herring testifies before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
He is asked by Representative Jason Chaffetz (R), chair of the committee, to promise to hand over all of the FBI interview summaries, known as 302s, in unredacted form.
Herring says he can’t do that, and suggests that Chaffetz should file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, just like any private citizen can.
Committee member Representative Trey Gowdy (R) later complains, “Since when did Congress have to go through FOIA to obtain 302s?”
Chaffetz replies to Henning, “You don’t get to decide what I get to see. I get to see it all.” Then he brings out a subpoena. He sends it to the witness table where Henning is sitting, and says, “I’ve signed this subpoena. We want all the 302s… and you are hereby served.”
In fact, Chaffetz’s committee has some of the 302s already, but all “personally identifiable information” has been redacted from them. The committee wants to know more about the role of Paul Combetta in deleting and the wiping all of Clinton’s emails from her personal server, but since Combetta is a Platte River Networks (PRN) employee and not a government employee, much information about what he did has been redacted.
Representative Carolyn Maloney (D), a member of the committee, claims the obstacle to Chaffetz seeing the redactions actually is the House Intelligence Committee, not the FBI. Chaffetz has asked House Intelligence chair Representative Devin Nunes (R) for access to the unredacted versions, but no vote on that request has been taken or scheduled yet.
However, Senator Charles Grassley (R), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also complains about how the FBI is not letting his committee see unredacted documents from the investigation. “The FBI is trying to have it both ways. At the same time it talks about unprecedented transparency, it’s placing unprecedented hurdles in the way of Congressional oversight of unclassified law enforcement matters. It turned over documents, but with strings attached. … The Senate should not allow its controls on classified material to be manipulated to hide embarrassing material from public scrutiny, even when that material is unclassified.” (Politico, 9/12/2016)
Two other Congressional committees formally asked the Justice Department on September 9, 2016 for the full FBI interviews of Combetta and other PRN employees. (US Congress, 9/9/2016)
Representative Jason Chaffetz (R), the chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, orders two Platte River Networks (PRN) employees and three others to testify before a Congressional hearing, on September 13, 2016. PRN is the company that managed Clinton’s private server. The following people are ordered to appear:
- Paul Combetta. He is a PRN employee. On September 8, 2016, the New York Times revealed that Combetta deleted and wiped Clinton’s emails from her private server, and he also got an immunity deal from the Justice Department as part of the FBI’s Clinton email investigation. Congressional committees issued subpoenas for PRN interviews on August 22, 2016, after asking without coersion since September 2015.
- Bill Thornton. He also is a PRN employee. The FBI’s final report indicated two PRN employees worked on Clinton’s server, so it seems probable he is the other one.
- Bryan Pagliano. He managed Clinton’s server until PRN took over. He was previously subpoenaed by the House Committee on Benghazi, but he pleaded the Fifth. However, he cooperated with the FBI after also getting an immunity deal.
- Justin Cooper. He is a member of Bill Clinton’s staff and helped Pagliano manage the server.
- Austin McChord. He is CEO of Datto, Inc. PRN subcontracted Datto to make back-up copies of the server. (The Wall Street Journal, 9/9/2016) (US Congress, 9/9/2016)
Representative Trey Gowdy (R) comments about a New York Times article from the day before that revealed Platte River Networks employee Paul Combetta was not only the person who deleted and wiped Clinton’s emails, but was the person who got an immunity deal from the FBI.
Gowdy says there are two types of immunity Combetta could have received: use and transactional. “If the FBI and the Department of Justice gave this witness transactional immunity, it is tantamount to giving the triggerman immunity in a robbery case.”
Gowdy, who is a former federal prosecutor, says that Combetta “destroyed official public records” despite a subpoena and preservation order from lawmakers for the documents. He adds that he is “stunned” because “It looks like they gave immunity to the very person you would most want to prosecute.” (Fox News, 9/9/2016)
On August 22, 2016, two Congressional committees issued subpoenas on the three companies involved in the management of Clinton’s private server: Platte River Networks (PRN), Datto, Inc., and SECNAP, Inc. They were ordered to turn over all responsive documents by September 12, 2016. Datto complies with some documents by the deadline, but PRN and SECNAP do not.
Representative Lamar Smith (R), chair of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, one of the two committees that issued the subpoenas, releases a statement on September 12, 2016 about this: “It is clear that the server maintained by Platte River contained official government business and even sensitive state secrets. Alarmingly, Platte River and SECNAP denied having any documents related to information technology security precautions on former Secretary Clinton’s server or network. This type of blatant denial and willful misinterpretation of the subpoenas will not be tolerated. I’m hopeful for the sake of our nation’s officials that email server security will be taken seriously and that these two companies will comply with legally issued subpoenas.”
Smith claims that PRN and SECNAP “chose willfully to misinterpret the plain language of the subpoena and did not provide any documents responsive to the Chairman’s subpoena. Both companies claim to possess no responsive documents despite evidence to the contrary found in the documents produced by Datto as well as details outlined in the FBI’s release of documents on September 2, 2016.”
As a result, new subpoenas have been issued to SECNAP and PRN demanding the documents. (US Congress, 9/12/2016)
On September 12, 2016, a deadline to respond to a subpoena issued by a Congressional committee passed. Three companies involved in the management of Clinton’s private server had been given the subpoena, and one – Datto, Inc. – responded in time with documents, while the other two – Platte River Networks (PRN) and SECNAP, Inc. – did not.
The next day, Representative Lamar Smith (R) comments in a related Congressional hearing, “just this morning… SECNAP’s [legal] counsel confirmed to my staff that the Clinton’s private LLC [Clinton Executive Service Corp.] is actively engaged in directing their obstructionist responses to Congressional subpoenas.” (US Congress, 9/13/2016)
Clinton’s lawyer will later confirm that he is prohibiting SECNAP from fully complying with a subpoena.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee holds a public hearing related to the management of Clinton’s private server. Four people associated with the management of Clinton’s private server had been served by Congressional subpoenas on September 8, 2016 to force them to testimony:
- Bryan Pagliano, a former State Department employee who managed Clinton’s server while she was secretary of state. He defies the subpoena by failing to appear at all.
- Justin Cooper, a former Bill Clinton aide who helped Pagliano manage the server. He does answer questions for nearly two hours at the hearing.
- Paul Combetta, a Platte River Networks (PRN) employee, which managed the server from June 2013 until at least late 2015. He deleted and then wiped all of Clinton’s emails from her server. He fails to answer any questions and pleads the Fifth instead.
- Bill Thornton, another PRN employee who managed the server with Combetta. He also to answer any questions and pleads the Fifth instead.
Pagliano’s lawyers have complained the hearing is politically biased and he will continue to refuse to participate. He has also failed to cooperate with another Congressional committee in 2015, a State Department inspector general’s investigation, and a deposition in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit.
Representative Jason Chaffetz (R) says of Pagliano’s refusal to appear: “He made the decision not to be here and there are consequences for that. … We’ll look at the full range of options. If anybody is under any illusion I’m going to let go of this and let it sail off into the sunset they are very ill-advised.” However, he doesn’t specify what the penalties might be. (The Associated Press, 9/13/2016) (US Congress, 9/13/2016)
Austin McChord, the CEO of Datto, Inc., was also scheduled to appear, but there is no mention of him. Presumably, he is rescheduled for another hearing.
On September 16, 2016, Twitter user Katica@GOPpollanalyst sends a message to Jeffrey Marty via his Twitter page which is a parody account for a fictitious congressional member named Rep. Steven Smith@RepStevenSmith. Katica had recently discovered posts to the Internet forum Reddit by someone using the name “stonetear,” and had deduced through various clues that this person actually is Paul Combetta, the Platte River Networks (PRN) employee who has managed Clinton’s private server since June 2013.
Katica then sends Marty a copy of stonetear’s Reddit post that was written on July 24, 2014, and includes a request for advice about “stripping out” the email address of a “VERY VIP” email account.
Marty replies, “NO WAY!!!!! That’s HUGE.”
Marty will later explain in a news article, “After a lot of discussion about the potential fallout of this decision, Katica and I decided the ‘stonetear’ information had to be released. Late Sunday night [September 18, 2016], we tweeted the (then-live) short link to the Reddit ‘VERY VIP’ post and four screenshots to Katica’s 2,000 followers, followed by an immediate re-tweet of her post to my 16,000 followers.”
Many interested people then begin finding and archiving all of Combetta’s Reddit posts, as well as other traces he’d left on the Internet using the “stonetear” alias. In the process, more evidence is found that “stonetear” and Paul Combetta are one and the same.
Within hours after the story breaking in various media outlets, including US News and World Report, “stonetear” is caught deleting all of his Reddit posts. The deletions are captured on video as they happen and are posted to YouTube. By September 20, 2016, a Congressional committee demands Combetta submit to recorded interviews by September 23, 2016 to explain these Reddit posts, as well as the deletions, or he will face another subpoena. (Daily Caller, 09/22/16)
YouTube member “updatedblubber” posts a video claiming it is a live recording of Platte River Networks (PRN) employee Paul Combetta deleting ‘stonetear’s posts on Reddit. The deletion occurs in the morning of September 19, 2016, within hours after news that the Reddit posts of “stonetear” really belong to Combetta break into the mainstream.
Later on the same day, Representative Lamar Smith (R), chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, writes a letter to PRN attorney Ken Eichner, expressing his concern about the deletion of the Reddit posts. Smith adds, “Given these concerns, the committee requests that you provide dates for the prioritized interview requests, as well as dates for the remaining Platte River Networks employees, by noon on Friday, September 23, 2016. If you fail to provide dates certain for each of the transcribed interviews, the committee will consider issuing subpoenas for depositions.” (YouTube, 09/19/16) (Representative Lamar Smith, 09/19/16)
In the hours following the discovery of the “stonetear” Reddit account, internet sleuths discover the following reasons “stonetear” is an online alias for PRN employee Paul Combetta:
1. On July 24, 2014 ‘stonetear’ posted a request for help on Reddit, asking for help stripping the email address from a VIP’s (VERY VIP) client’s archived emails. The day before, Clinton’s lawyers sent some of Clinton’s emails so they could begin sorting them.
2. On December 10, 2014, ‘stonetear’ asked for advice from Reddit users on how to implement a 60-day email “purge” policy. It is also reportedly near the same time that Clinton told her lawyer Cheryl Mills she didn’t need her “personal” emails, resulting in Mills telling those managing Clinton’s server to delete them.
3. The inactive website combetta.com is registered to the email address email@example.com in a search of domain registration information using the service whois.com.
4. This Facebook photo is captioned by a friend of Combetta and refers to him as “Stone Tear.”
5. An account for a person named Paul Combetta on the web bazaar Etsy also has the username ‘stonetear.’
6. Platte River Networks (PRN) has stated Combetta is their only employee who lives in Rhode Island. ‘Stonetear’ claims to live in Rhode Island in his posts on Reddit.
7. A website publicizing a help file for the video game Betrayal at Krondor thanks Combetta and shows his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
8. Moreover, Stonetear@gmail.com has a Google Account profile picture that looks like Combetta.
FBI Director James Comey will later confirm that Paul Combetta is “stonetear” in his testimony to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on September 28, 2016. (CSpan 01:27:39, 09/28/2016)
Representative Mark Meadows (R) of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is reviewing a Reddit post that suggests an IT (Internet technology) specialist who worked on Hillary Clinton’s private server asked for advice on how to alter the contents of “VERY VIP” emails. Meadows is the chairman of the panel’s Government Operations subcommittee.
Reddit users uncovered a two-year-old post from an account they believe belongs to Paul Combetta, a Platte River Networks employee who helped manage Clinton’s private server. Meadows says, “the Reddit post issue and its connection to Paul Combetta is currently being reviewed by [my] staff and evaluations are being made as to the authenticity of the post. If it is determined that the request to change email addresses was made by someone so closely aligned with the Secretary’s IT operation as Mr. Combetta, then it will certainly prompt additional inquiry.”
Representative Jason Chaffetz (R), chair of the same House committee, has issued a criminal referral to the US attorney for the District of Columbia. The referral asks that the Justice Department investigate whether Clinton or her aides were involved in the decision to delete the emails while they were under subpoena and a request for preservation of records. (The Hill, 09/19/16)
The House Oversight and Govenment Reform Committee orders Reddit to preserve deleted posts believed to be written by Paul Combetta, the Platte River Networks employee who helped manage Clinton’s private server. The committee also suspects he may have deleted Clinton’s emails that were under subpoena.
Representative Jason Chaffetz (R) confirms to the Hill that the committee has issued a preservation order and that Reddit is “cooperating.” He also states, “The order has the weight of law, you can’t destroy things and hope things magically get erased. The allegations fit the pattern of what we think was happening.”
Representative Mark Meadows (R), chair of the panel’s Government Operations subcommittee, states, “I’m very confident that the amount of circumstantial evidence certainly points in one direction. We’re just trying to make doubly sure that we can authenticate that in a real way, because if not it will be challenged on a number of fronts.”
Chaffetz adds, “We have to verify the authenticity but we are pursuing it with vigor. On the surface it may be accurate, but we’ve got to make sure [the Reddit posts] are preserved and we have to dive deeper into the authenticity.”
Reddit has a policy to maintain deleted records for 90 days if it receives an official preservation order. Otherwise, the information will be subject to Reddit’s normal retention schedules. (The Hill, 09/21/2016)
In a House Judiciary Committee hearing, Comey comments on a July 2014 Reddit post by Paul Combetta, a Platte River Networks employee who helped manage Clinton’s private server.
Comey says, “Our team concluded that what he was trying to do was when they produced emails not have the actual address but have some name or placeholder instead of the actual dot-com address in the ‘From:’ line.” As a result, the FBI believes Combetta was not engaged in a secret cover-up when he used his “stonetear” alias on the Reddit website to ask for a tool that could delete Clinton’s email address throughout a large file.
However, Republican lawmakers believe Combetta’s Reddit post reveals an effort to hide Clinton’s emails from investigators. For example, committee chair Bob Goodlatte (R) says he believes it was “obviously part of a cover-up. … This clearly demonstrates an action to destroy evidence by people operating Clinton’s private server and her staff.” (Politico, 09/28/2016)
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