July 23, 2014: Clinton’s lawyers are sent some of Clinton’s emails so they can begin sorting them.

Unnamed employees at Platte River Networks (PRN), the company managing Clinton’s private server, discuss in an email sending copies of Clinton’s emails from when she was secretary of state overnight to Cheryl Mills, Clinton’s former chief of staff. A company spokesperson will later confirm that the company did begin sending the emails to Mills around this time. (The Washington Post, 9/22/2015) 

A September 2016 FBI report will confirm that PRN sent some of Clinton’s emails in response to a request from Mills, but only those which were sent to or received from a .gov email address while Clinton was secretary of state. An unnamed PRN employee remotely transferred a .pst file containing the emails onto the laptops of Mills and Heather Samuelson (another Clinton lawyer) via ScreenConnect. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)

Two weeks after the FBI report is released, an email reported in the media will reveal that on this day, PRN employee Paul Combetta overrnighted DVDs of data from Clinton’s server to Clinton Executive Services Corp. (CESC), a Clinton family company.  The exact shipping charge of $46.38 is mentioned in the email. (The New York Post, 9/18/2016)

It is unclear if this is in addition to the files being transferred over the Internet as described by the FBI, or instead of it. Combetta will claim in a September 2015 FBI interview that he ultimately never sent the DVD and only sent the data over the Internet. However, this may not settle the question, because Combetta will be interviewed three times and his answers will often be inacurate and/or contradictory. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/23/2016)

July 2014 is the same month the State Department first informally requests Clinton’s emails. Mills and Samuelson will be two of three Clinton associates who sort through which emails to turn over and which to delete, along with Clinton’s personal lawyer David Kendall.

In late September 2014, PRN will send the rest of Clinton’s known emails to Mills and Samuelson.

July 24, 2014: The manager of Clinton’s server asks for help in a social media forum to remove Clinton’s address from her emails.

A captured shot of Combetta's 'stonetear' GMail account with picture included. (Credit: public domain)

A captured shot of Combetta’s ‘stonetear’ GMail account with picture included. (Credit: public domain)

A Reddit user by the name of “stonetear” makes a Reddit post that will later cause controversy. Overwhelming evidence will emerge that “stonetear” is Paul Combetta, one of two Platte River Networks (PRN) employees actively managing Clinton’s private server at the time. The post reads:

“Hello all — I may be facing a very interesting situation where I need to strip out a VIP’s (VERY VIP) email address from a bunch of archived email that I have both in a live Exchange mailbox, as well as a PST file. Basically, they don’t want the VIP’s email address exposed to anyone, and want to be able to either strip out or replace the email address in the to/from fields in all of the emails we want to send out. I am not sure if something like this is possible with PowerShell, or exporting all of the emails to MSG and doing find/replaces with a batch processing program of some sort. Does anyone have experience with something like this, and/or suggestions on how this might be accomplished?”

July 24, 2014 Reddit post contained this request for advice about “stripping out” the email address of a “VERY VIP” email account. (Credit: Reddit)

This July 24, 2014 Reddit post contained a request for advice about “stripping out” the email address of a “VERY VIP” email account. (Credit: Reddit)

A response captured in the Reddit chat warning Combetta that what he wants to do is illegal. (Credit: Reddit)

A response captured in the Reddit chat warning Combetta that what he wants to do could result in “major legal issues.” (Credit: Reddit)

The post in made in a sub-forum frequented by other people who manage servers. One poster comments: “There is no supported way to do what you’re asking. You can only delete emails after they’re stored in the database. You can’t change them. If there was a feature in Exchange that allowed this, it would result in major legal issues. There may be ways to hack a solution, but I’m not aware of any.”

Despite this warning, “stonetear” replies, “As a .pst file or exported MSG files, this could be done though, yes? The issue is that these emails involve the private email address of someone you’d recognize and we’re trying to replace it with a placeholder as to not expose it.” (Reddit, 9/19/2016)

The post occurs one day after the House Benghazi Committee reached an agreement with the State Department on the production of records relating to Clinton’s communications. It also came one day after Combetta sent some of Clinton’s emails to Clinton’s lawyers so they could begin sorting them.

After Combetta is discovered to have authored the post in September 2016, Fortune Magazine will comment, “it’s not clear if there is anything illegal about the Reddit request. But the optics sure don’t look good, and strongly suggest that Combetta turned to social media for advice about how to tamper with government records that should been preserved.” (Fortune, 9/21/2016)

Shortly After October 28, 2014: A computer file from Platte River has a key role in how Clinton’s emails are sorted, according to testimony by Cheryl Mills.

Cheryl Mills after testifying privately to the House Benghazi Committee while Representatives Elijah Cummings and Trey Gowdy stand behind her, on September 3, 2015. (Credit Stephen Crowley / The New York Times)

On September 3, 2015, Clinton’s former chief of staff Cheryl Mills will testify under oath in front of the House Benghazi Committee. After being asked about her role in sorting and deleting Clinton’s emails, Mills says that “after the letter came” from the State Department on October 28, 2014 asking for Clinton’s work-related emails, “Secretary Clinton asked [Clinton’s personal lawyer] David Kendall and myself to oversee a process to ensure that any records that could be potentially work-related were provided to the department.”

Mills is asked if she or Kendall were in physical possession of the server at the time.

She replies, “No. … [T]hat server, as I understand it, doesn’t contain any of her records. So we asked Platte River to give us a .pst [computer file] of all of her emails during the tenure where she was there, which they did. And we used that .pst to first search for and set aside all of the state.gov records, then to actually do a name search of all of the officials in the department so that we could ensure that all the senior officials that she would likely be corresponding with got looked at and searched for by name, and then a review of every sender and recipient so that you knew, if there was a misspelling or something that was inaccurate, that you would also have that review done, as well. And then that created the body of, I think, about 30,000 emails that ended up being ones that were potentially work-related, and not, obviously, completely, but it was the best that we could do, meaning obviously there were some personal records that are turned over, and the department has advised the Secretary of that.”

Mills further explains that she and Kendall “oversaw the process. The person who actually undertook it is a woman who worked for me.” This woman is another lawyer, Heather Samuelson, who Mills admits doesn’t have any specialized training or skills with the Federal Records Act or identifying official records.

Then Mills is asked what happened to the “universe of the .pst file” after the work-emails had been sorted out.

She replies: “So the potential set of federal records, we created a thumb drive that David Kendall kept at his office. And then the records themselves, that would have been the universe that they sent, Platte River took back. […] So they just removed it. So it ended up being on system, and they just removed it. And I don’t know what is the technological way they do it, because it’s a way you have to access it, and then they make it so you can’t access it anymore.” (House Benghazi Committee, 10/21/2015)

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

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

Paul Combetta (Credit: Facebook)

Paul Combetta (Credit: Facebook)

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

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

141201ScreenConnectLogo

ScreenConnect Logo (Credit: public domain)

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

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

March 3, 2015 or Shortly Thereafter: The employee who will later delete all of Clinton’s emails is asked about what Clinton emails might be turned over.

On March 3, 2015, David DeCamillis, the vice president of sales for Platte River Networks (PRN), wonders what emails the company might be asked to turn over in an email to other PRN employees. This is because of a New York Times article on March 2, 2015 revealing Clinton’s exclusive use of a private email address hosted on her private server, and PRN has been managing that server since June 2013.

Paul Combetta (Credit: CSpan)

Paul Combetta (Credit: CSpan)

PRN employee Paul Combetta replies to the email, although the date of the reply hasn’t been specified. “I’ve done quite a bit already in the last few months related to this. Her [Clinton’s] team had me do a bunch of exports and email filters and cleanup to provide a .pst [personal storage file] of all of HRC’s [Hillary Rodham Clinton’s] emails to/from any .gov addresses. … I billed probably close to 10 hours in on-call tickets with CSEC related to it :).”

CSEC is a likely reference to Clinton Executive Services Corp. (CESC), a Clinton family company paying for PRN’s services. Combetta will delete and then wipe all of Clinton’s emails later in March 2015. His mention of sending Clinton’s emails likely refers to when PRN sent those emails to two of Clinton’s lawyers in late July 2014. (The New York Post, 9/18/2016)

It is not clear if this is all of Combetta’s reply. But if it is, it is notable that he doesn’t mention that he deleted and then wiped all of Clinton’s emails off the laptops of two lawyers working for Clinton by this time, and allegedly was told to change the settings on Clinton’s server so her emails would be deleted over time as well.

March 8, 2015: Someone deletes email accounts other than Clinton’s from Clinton’s private server.

In a September 2016 report, the FBI will reveal that the “FBI forensically identified deletions from [Clinton’s] server on March 8, 2015 of .pst files not associated with Clinton’ s email account or domain, and other server data.”

A .pst or “Personal Storage Table” file is a file format used to store copies of emails and other items within Microsoft software.

This incident will only be mentioned in a footnote in an FBI report, with no mention of who made the deletions or why. It also is not clear how thorough the deletions are. Clinton’s deputy chief of staff Huma Abedin had a frequently used email account hosted on the server, but it is unknown if these deletions include her emails.

Platte River Network's new, larger office, which they moved into in mid-2015. (Credit: Stuart Sipkin / Demotis / Corbis))

Platte River Network’s new, 12,000 sq. foot office, which they moved into in mid-2015. (Credit: Stuart Sipkin / Demotis / Corbis))

It seems probable an employee of Platte River Networks (PRN), the computer company managing Clinton’s server, made the deletions. Shortly after a news report made Clinton’s use of the server public knowledge on March 2, 2015, Cheryl Mills, who is one of Clinton’s lawyers as well as her former chief of staff, requested that PRN conduct a complete inventory of all equipment related to the server, and one unnamed PRN employee physically checked the server while another one remotely logged on to check it.

The FBI report will also mention that around March 7, 2015, PRN makes various changes to the server’s security settings. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)

August 6, 2015: Clinton’s lawyers give the FBI a thumb drive containing over 30,000 Clinton work-related emails.

Williams & Connolly, the law firm of Clinton’s personal lawyer David Kendall, gives the FBI a thumb drive which has a .pst file containing 30,524 emails. On December 5, 2014, Clinton’s lawyers gave the State Department 30,490 emails, sorted to be all of Clinton’s work-related emails. It isn’t clear why there is a 34 email difference.

On July 31, 2016, the Justice Department asked Kendall to turn over his thumb drive.

Clinton lawyer Heather Samuelson put the .pst file on a thumb drive and gave it to Kendall around the above-mentioned December 5, 2014 date. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)

December 11, 2015: Emails from Clinton’s computer technician are missing.

The State Department has told Senate investigators that it cannot find the emails of Bryan Pagliano, the Clinton aide who managed her private server. Department officials found a “.pst file” which contains back-up copies of Pagliano’s emails from the time period after Clinton was secretary of state, but his .pst file for Clinton’s time as secretary of state is missing. But it is also revealed that the FBI has taken possession of Pagliano’s government computer, and it is hoped that some of all of the emails will be found there. Senate investigators want the email to help determine if Pagliano should be offered immunity in return for testimony. (Politico, 12/11/2015) 

However, it will later emerge that Pagliano was given immunity by the FBI some months earlier. (The New York Times, 3/3/2016)