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)

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

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

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

141210stonetear60dayretention

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

Cheryl Mills (Credit: Andrew Harrer / Getty Images)

Cheryl Mills (Credit: Andrew Harrer / Getty Images)

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

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

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

September 16, 2016: Internet sleuths discover social media posts by the manager of Clinton’s server that could impact the investigation of Clinton’s email usage.

Katica@GOPpollanalyst (Credit: Twitter)

Katica@GOPpollanalyst (Credit: Twitter)

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.

A photo of stonetears request for help on July 24, 2016, captured by Redditors. (Credit: Katica / Twitter)

A photo of stonetear’s request for help on July 24, 2016, found by Katica and later archived by Redditors. (Credit: Katica / Twitter)

Marty replies, “NO WAY!!!!! That’s HUGE.”

Jeffrey Marty (Credit: Daily Caller)

Jeffrey Marty (Credit: Daily Caller)

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)

September 19, 2016: Paul Combetta is recorded deleting his Reddit posts.

A photo captured of Combetta deleting his posts on Reddit, as it was happening. (Credit: updatedblubber)

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)

September 21, 2016: A Congressional committee orders Reddit to preserve deleted posts related to the Clinton investigation.

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.

Jason Chaffetz (Credit: The Associated Press)

Jason Chaffetz (Credit: The Associated Press)

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)

September 28, 2016: Comey isn’t sure if the FBI was aware of Paul Combetta’s Reddit posts and won’t comment if Combetta committed a crime by deleting them.

When FBI Director James Comey answers questions before a House Judiciary Committee public hearing, two of the committee members ask him key questions about Paul Combetta, the Platte River Networks (PRN) employee who helped manage Clinton’s private server.

Darrell Issa (Credit: Jeff Malet)

Darrell Issa (Credit: Jeff Malet)

Representative Darrell Issa (R) asks: “Director, I have a lot of concerns but one of them refers to Reddit. At the time that the Department of Justice at your behest, or your involvement, gave Paul Combetta immunity, did you do so knowing about all of the posts he had on Reddit…?”

Comey replies: “I am not sure sitting here. My recollection is and I’ll check this and fix it if I am wrong, that we had some awareness of the Reddit posts, I don’t know whether our folks had read them all or not. We had a pretty good understanding of what we thought he had done, but that is my best recollection.”

Issa then asks: “OK, in the last week, [Combetta] has been deleting [his] Reddit posts. Is that consistent with preserving evidence? … You know, I guess my question to you is, is he destroying evidence relevant to Congressional inquiries? And I will answer it for you: yes he is. And what are you going to do about it?”

Comey answers, “That’s not something I can comment on.”

Bob Goodlatte (Credit: Jacquelyn Martin / The Associated Press)

Bob Goodlatte (Credit: Jacquelyn Martin / The Associated Press)

Later in the same hearing, committee chair Representative Bob Goodlatte (R), similarly asks: “Paul Combetta, with PRN, posted to Reddit, asking how to strip out a VIP’s, very VIP email address from a bunch of archived email. … This clearly demonstrates actions taken to destroy evidence by those operating Sec Clinton’s private server and by her staff.  … [W]as the FBI aware of this Reddit post prior to offering Mr. Combetta immunity on May 3, 2016?”

Comey responds, “I am not sure. I know that our team looked at it. I don’t know whether they knew about it before then or not.” (House Judiciary Committee, 09/28/2016)

September 28, 2016: FBI Director James Comey denies Paul Combetta attempted to cover up Clinton’s emails.

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)