House Speaker John Boehner (R) formally announces its formation. Representative Trey Gowdy (R) is named the head investigator. (The New York Times, 8/8/2015) The committee is dominated by Republicans and will be frequently accused of having a partisan agenda to criticize Clinton and other Democrats.
Representative Trey Gowdy (R) sends a letter to Clinton’s personal lawyer David Kendall on behalf of the House Benghazi Committee, which he chairs. In the letter, he cites over a dozen examples of emails from Clinton’s private clintonemail.com email address relating to the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack that have been recently uncovered. He suggests there are probably many more relevant emails still to be discovered. He also notes evidence that Clinton’s former deputy chief of staff Huma Abedin has a clintonemail.com email address.
The letter concludes with a formal request for all emails relevant to the Benghazi attack from Clinton’s clintonemail.com address from January 1, 2011 to December 31, 2012, to be turned over by December 31, 2014. (US Department of State, 2/4/2016)
Clinton will give the State Department over 30,000 emails just three days later, but these will not yet be available to the House Benghazi Committee. The committee will not get the Benghazi-related emails until February 13, 2015, and they will be sent from the State Department, not from Clinton’s lawyer.
Clinton’s personal lawyer David Kendall later claims that after Clinton turned over the 30,490 emails she deemed work-related, which took place on December 5, 2014, the settings on her private server were changed so that any email not sent within 60 days would be automatically deleted. But some news reports say the setting was for 30 days instead. If this is true, the deletions must take place after January 5, 2015, or February 5, 2015, depending on which setting is actually in place.
On March 4, 2015, the House Benghazi Committee issues a subpoena ordering Clinton to turn over any material related to Libya and/or Benghazi, which followed a more limited request in November 2014.
Trey Gowdy (R), head of the committee, will complain later in March 2015, “Not only was the secretary the sole arbiter of what was a public record, she also summarily decided to delete all emails from her server, ensuring no one could check behind her analysis in the public interest. […] The fact that she apparently deleted some emails after Congress initially requested documents raises serious concerns.”
Clinton’s staff has argued that all the emails relating to Libya and/or Benghazi have been turned over already. (The New York Times, 3/27/2015) (House Benghazi Committee, 3/19/2015) (McClatchy Newspapers, 10/6/2015)
A September 2016 FBI will reveal that the deletion of Clinton’s emails from her private server won’t actually take place until late March 2015. And while the employee is supposed to change the email retention policy so some of her emails will be deleted 60 days later, he actually will delete all of her emails and then use a computer program to wipe them so they won’t be recovered later. Why this happens is still unclear. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)
Clinton campaign spokesperson Nick Merrill writes in an email to Clinton aides Jennifer Palmieri and Robby Mook: “[The] State [Department] just called to tell me that [New York Times reporter Michael] Schmidt seems to have what appear to be summaries of some of the exchanges in the 300 emails the [House Benghazi] committee has. He shared 2 anecdotes with State, one was an exchange that [Clinton] had with Jake [Sullivan] about some of the media stories following the attacks, the other an exchange that [Clinton] had with [Clinton aide Cheryl Mills] and [Clinton aide] Huma [Abedin] on non-state.gov accounts, but that was later forwarded to a state.gov account. Again, it appears that he does not have the email but that someone, likely from the committee, is slipping him cherry-picked characterizations of the exchanges. I haven’t heard directly from Schmidt yet but will circle back when I do.”
Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri replies, “This is no bueno [no good]. This is some kind of bullshit. Adding [Clinton campaign chair] John [Podesta] to this chain. If [Representative Trey] Gowdy is doing selective leaks, we are in very different kind of warfare.” (WikiLeaks, 10/29/2016)
Schmidt broke a March 2, 2015 story that Clinton used a private email account as secretary of state. The State Department gave about 300 emails to the House Benghazi Committee, chaired by Gowdy (R).
Presumably, Palmieri is upset that someone is leaking emails to a reporter, not that the State Department is sharing this information about the leak with the Clinton campaign. The department will later claim it never worked to help Clinton with her email controversy, despite emails such as this one.
The email will be made public by WikiLeaks in October 2016.
Sid Blumenthal is a private citizen without any security clearance, as well as a Clinton Foundation employee. Clinton says, “It’s important when you get into politics to have friends you had before you were in politics and to understand what is on their minds. And he has been a friend of mine for a long time. He sent me unsolicited emails which I passed on in some instances.” (Real Clear Politics, 5/20/2015)
One month later, Trey Gowdy (R), the head of the House Benghazi Committee, will say that newly released emails show that Clinton “was soliciting and regularly corresponding with Sidney Blumenthal – who was passing unvetted intelligence information about Libya from a source with a financial interest in the country. It just so happens these emails directly contradict her public statement that the messages from Blumenthal were unsolicited.” (The Associated Press, 6/25/2015)
Furthermore, the New York Times will report one month later, “According to officials briefed on the matter, among the emails the State Department could not find [but were handed over by Blumenthal] were those in which Mrs. Clinton encouraged Mr. Blumenthal to keep sending memos or in which she asked additional questions about their contents.” For instance, in July 2012, Clinton told Blumenthal in an email, “thanks for keeping this stuff coming!” In a March 2012 email reply to him, she wrote, “This strains credulity based on what I know. Any more info about it?”
She frequently makes encouraging comments to his emails, such as “keep ’em coming” or “another keeper.”
On other occasions, Clinton appears to have wanted to follow Blumenthal’s suggestions. For instance, after he gave her public relations advice in an August 22, 2011 email over how to discuss the imminent fall of Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya, Clinton forwarded his email to an aide and wrote, “Sid makes a good case for what I should say.”
The Times will conclude that the emails “appear to show that Mrs. Clinton and her advisers took the memos and other advice from Mr. Blumenthal fairly seriously.”
However, despite this assessment from the Times, Nick Merrill, a spokesperson for Clinton, will say, “The idea that this runs counter to the assertion that the emails were unsolicited is a leap. Mr. Blumenthal began emailing of his own accord. Polite acknowledgments are not tantamount to solicitation.” (The New York Times, 6/29/2015)
Blumenthal was paid a $120,000 yearly salary by the Clinton Foundation, but didn’t seem to actually do any charity work there. (Politico, 5/28/2015)
In private testimony before the House Benghazi Committee, Clinton confidant Sid Blumenthal is asked about the accuracy of the frequent intelligence emails he sent Clinton. Bloomberg News reports: “Blumenthal repeatedly refused to take any ownership of the information in the emails. He told the committee he was just passing on information to Clinton…”
According to one lawmaker attending the hearing, Blumenthal is asked about an October 15, 2011 email he sent to Clinton claiming that Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi was hiding in the neighboring country of Chad and was about to be interviewed by renowned journalist Seymour Hersh, when in fact el-Qaddafi was still in Libya and died there five days later. Blumenthal is asked, “Did it turn out to be true?” He responds, “I don’t know,” despite the email clearly being untrue.
Committee Chair Trey Gowdy comments to reporters afterwards, “I am interested in the reliability of the information being presented to our top diplomat, and the reality is, having been in the room all day, [Blumenthal] has absolutely no idea whether the information is credible or not.” (Bloomberg News, 6/17/2015)
Blumenthal is a Clinton confidant, journalist, and Clinton Foundation employee. He gives the committee nearly 60 emails between him and Clinton about Benghazi and/or Libya that the committee didn’t have before. (CBS News, 6/16/2015) The emails will be publicly released one week later.
However, Committee head Trey Gowdy (R) will reject a request from the Committee’s Democrats and Blumenthal’s attorney to release a transcript of Blumenthal’s nearly nine-hour long testimony. Gowdy will say, “Releasing transcripts can impact the recollections of other witnesses, jeopardize the efficacy of the investigation, alert witnesses to lines of inquiry best not made public, and publicize personal information.” (The Hill, 6/22/2015)
Although Sid Blumenthal testifies before the House Benghazi Committee in a secret session, a Politico article later on the same day as his testimony reveals some of what he says.
Blumenthal, a journalist and private citizen with no security clearance, frequently wrote emails to Clinton that contained detailed intelligence assessments from various parts of the world, especially Libya. Blumenthal reportedly tells the committee that he doesn’t write or even know the ultimate source of any of his Libyan intelligence he sent to Clinton. Instead, he was copying and pasting memos from Tyler Drumheller, a former CIA operative. Blumenthal and Drumheller were involved in a Libya-related business opportunity called Osprey Global Solutions.
Trey Gowdy (R), head of the committee, says, “One of the folks providing [Clinton] the largest volume of information was simply and merely a conduit of someone who may have had business interest in Libya. We have a CIA, so why would you not rely on your own vetted source intelligence agency? In this case, there was no vetting, no analysis of credibility whatsoever.”
Blumenthal claims his advice was unsolicited and he wasn’t being paid for passing on the information. Committee investigators say Blumenthal’s emails about Libya make up more than a third of all of Clinton’s Libya-related emails.
And although Blumenthal was being paid $120,000 a year as an adviser to The Clinton Foundation, he says his salary there “had nothing whatsoever to do with my emails to my friend” Clinton. He also claims the Libyan business venture with Drumheller was a “humanitarian-assistance idea for medical care in which I had little involvement, never got off the ground, in which no money was ever exchanged, no favor sought and which had nothing to do with my sending these emails.” (Politico, 6/16/2015)
Drumheller will die of pancreatic cancer on August 2, 2015, a month and a half later. It’s unclear if he’s questioned by investigators before his death. If Blumenthal got most or all of his intelligence from Drumheller, it’s unclear where Drumheller got it from, since his 25-year CIA career ended in 2005. (The Washington Post, 8/16/2015)
On October 7, 2015, Representative Trey Gowdy (R), the chair of the House Benghazi Committee, releases an excerpt of a Clinton email that he claims shows Clinton mentioned the identity of a top Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) intelligence source in Libya. The March 18, 2011, email between Clinton and Clinton confidant Sid Blumenthal states, “Tyler spoke to a colleague currently at CIA, who told him the agency had been dependent for intelligence from [redacted due to sources and methods].” “Tyler” is Tyler Drumheller, a CIA operative until 2005.
Gowdy claims the redaction in that sentence is “the name of a human source.” He adds, “Armed with that information, Secretary Clinton forwarded the email to a colleague—debunking her claim that she never sent any classified information from her private email address.” (Yahoo, 10/8/2015) (House Benghazi Committee, 10/7/2015)
However, eleven days later, Newsweek reports that CIA has informed the committee that it reviewed 127 emails between Clinton and Sid Blumenthal, including that one, and none of them were deemed classified. Representative Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the committee, criticizes Gowdy for making inaccurate claims: “The problem with your accusation, as with so many others during this investigation, is that you failed to check your facts before you made it, and the CIA has now informed the [Benghazi] Committee that you were wrong.” (Newsweek, 10/18/2015)
It does not appear the committee has released more text of the email in question since.
During Clinton’s testimony under oath before the House Benghazi Committee, Representative Jim Jordan (R) asks Clinton questions about how her emails from her tenure as secretary of state were sorted and some of them deleted in late 2014. He asks, “You have stated that you used a multi-step process to determine which ones were private, which ones were public, which ones belonged to you and your family, which ones belonged to the taxpayer. Who oversaw this multi-step process in making that determination which ones we might get and which ones that were personal?”
Clinton replies, “That was overseen by my attorneys and they conducted a rigorous review of my emails…”
Jordan visually identifies the three lawyers who were known to be involved in the sorting process — David Kendall, Cheryl Mills, and Heather Samuelson — because they are sitting right behind Clinton in the hearing, and Clinton confirms those are the ones. He then asks Clinton what she means by “rigorous.”
Clinton explains, “It means that they were asked to provide anything that could be possibly construed as work related. In fact, in my opinion — and that’s been confirmed by both the State Department…”
Jordan interrupts, “But I’m asking how — I’m asking how it was done. Was — did someone physically look at the 62,000 emails, or did you use search terms, date parameters? I want to know the specifics.”
Clinton responds, “They did all of that, and I did not look over their shoulders, because I thought it would be appropriate for them to conduct that search, and they did.”
Then Jordan asks, “Will you provide this committee — or can you answer today — what were the search terms?”
Clinton answers, “The search terms were everything you could imagine that might be related to anything, but they also went through every single email.”
When asked for more specifics, she says, “I asked my attorneys to oversee the process. I did not look over their shoulder. I did not dictate how they would do it. I did not ask what they were doing and how they made their determinations.”
After more questioning, Clinton refuses to mention any of the search terms.
Additionally, when asked if there were in fact two servers, she says there was just one.
She also says, “There was nothing marked classified on my emails, either sent or received.”
Jordan concludes his questioning by asking, “If the FBI finds some of these emails that might be deleted, as they’re reviewing your server, will you agree to allow a neutral third party — like a retired federal judge — to review any emails deleted to determine if any of them are relevant to our investigation?”
She dodges giving an answer, despite being further pressed on the issue. (The Washington Post, 10/22/2015)
On July 7, 2016, after concluding the FBI’s investigation into Clinton’s emails, FBI Director James Comey will be questioned under oath by Representative Trey Gowdy (R). Gowdy will refer to Clinton’s testimony on this day when he asks, “Secretary Clinton said her lawyers read every one of the emails and were overly inclusive. Did her lawyers read the email content individually?”
Comey will reply, “No.”
Gowdy will also ask, “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.”
Gowdy then will ask if it’s true she never sent or received information marked classified on her private email.
Comey will reply, “That’s not true. There were a small number of portion markings on I think three of the documents.”
Later in the hearing, Representative Jason Chaffetz (R) will ask Comey if the FBI has investigated the truthfulness of Clinton’s testimony under oath. After Comey says that would require a referral from Congress, Chaffetz will promise to get him one right away. (Politico, 7/7/2016)
The New York Times reports that “the long day of often-testy exchanges between committee members and their prominent witness revealed little new information about an episode that has been the subject of seven previous investigations… Perhaps stung by recent admissions that the pursuit of Mrs. Clinton’s emails was politically motivated, Republican lawmakers on the panel for the most part avoided any mention of her use of a private email server.”
The email issue is briefly discussed shortly before lunch, in “a shouting match” between Republican committee chair Trey Gowdy and two Democrats, Adam Schiff and Elijah Cummings.
Later in the hearing, Representative Jim Jordan (R) accuses Clinton of changing her explanations of the email service. That leads to a “heated exchange” in which Clinton “repeated that she had made a mistake in using a private email account, but maintained that she had never sent or received anything marked classified and had sought to be transparent by publicly releasing her emails.” (The New York Times, 10/22/2015) (The Washington Post, 10/22/2015)
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)
It is reported that the House Benghazi Committee is working on its final report. Depending on how long a security review by US intelligence agencies takes, it is likely to be released between July and September 2016. That means the Republican-led committee will release a report widely expected to be critical of Clinton in the middle of a general presidential election season when Clinton could be the Democratic nominee.
In early 2015, Representative Trey Gowdy (R), head of the committee, said: “I want it done before 2016” and, “it’s not going to come out in the middle of 2016.” He blames a slow government response to turning over evidence for the delay. (The Washington Post, 4/13/2016)
The final report will be released on June 28, 2016.
At a Congressional hearing, FBI Director James Comey is asked by Representative Trey Gowdy (R), “Secretary Clinton said her lawyers read every one of the emails and were overly inclusive. Did her lawyers read the email content individually?”
Comey simply replies, “No.”
(Clinton’s lawyers involved in sorting her emails are David Kendall, Cheryl Mills, and Heather Samuelson.) In Congressional testimony under oath in October 2015, Clinton claimed that her lawyers did read every email.
Comey also says he doesn’t believe Clinton knew her legal team deleted thousands of work-related emails. And he says, “I don’t think there was any specific instruction or conversation between the secretary and her lawyers” in which Clinton approved that some work-related emails be deleted. He also believes that Clinton didn’t “know that her lawyers cleaned devices in such a way to preclude forensic recovery,” a matter about which the FBI asked Clinton in her FBI interview. (Politico, 7/7/2016) (CNN, 7/7/2016)
At a Congressional hearing, FBI Director James Comey is asked by Representative Trey Gowdy (R), “Secretary Clinton said there was nothing marked classified on her emails, either sent or received. Was that true?”
Comey replies, “That’s not true. There were a small number of portion markings on, I think, three of the documents.” Later in the day, the State Department says that two of those emails were incorrectly marked as classified when they were sent. Both of those emails, sent on April 8, 2012 and August 2, 2012, were released as part of the over 30,000 emails Clinton made public. It is unknown which email Comey is referring to in the third instance. It could be the part marked classified is redacted, or perhaps the email has not yet been released. (Politico, 7/7/2016) (CNN, 7/7/2016)
A September 2016 FBI report will give more information on these emails, including mentioning that the third email is still classified at the “confidential” level.
At a Congressional hearing, FBI Director James Comey is asked by Representative Trey Gowdy (R), “Secretary Clinton said neither she nor anyone else deleted work-related emails from her personal account. Was that true?”
Comey answers, “That’s a harder one to answer. We found traces of work-related emails in — on devices or in slack space. Whether they were deleted or whether when the server was changed out, something happened to them. There’s no doubt that the work-related emails were removed electronically from the email system.” (Politico, 7/7/2016) (CNN, 7/7/2016)
However, in September 2016, the FBI Clinton investigation’s final report will be released, based entirely on information learned by the FBI prior to Comey’s testimony. That makes clear that in late March 2015, someone used a computer program called BleachBit to delete all of Clinton’s emails off her server and then wipe them to prevent their later recovery. It is unknown why Comey fails to mention this.
Since late 2014, when Clinton and her lawyers deleted over 31,000 of Clinton’s emails from when she was secretary of state, it has been unclear if the emails were simply deleted or “wiped,” meaning deliberate steps were taken to make sure they couldn’t be recovered later.
In an interview, Representative Trey Gowdy (R) says that, “[Clinton] and her lawyers [Cheryl Mills, David Kendall, and Heather Samuelson] had those emails deleted. And they didn’t just push the delete button; they had them deleted where even God can’t read them. They were using something called BleachBit. You don’t use BleachBit for yoga emails or bridemaids emails. When you’re using BleachBit, it is something you really do not want the world to see.”
BleachBit is computer software whose website advertises that it can “prevent recovery” of files. Politico notes that if Gowdy is correct, this would be “further proof that Clinton had something to hide in deleting personal emails from the private email system she used during her tenure as secretary of state.” It is not explained how Gowdy might know this, but his comments come only a few days after the FBI gave raw materials about their Clinton email investigation to Congress. (Politico, 8/25/2016)
Gowdy’s claim contradicts what FBI Director James Comey said on July 5, 2016 when he announced that he would not recommend charging Clinton with any crime. At that time, Comey stated, “we found no evidence that any of the additional work-related emails were intentionally deleted in an effort to conceal them. Our assessment is that, like many email users, Secretary Clinton periodically deleted emails or emails were purged from the system when devices were changed.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 7/5/2016)
Within hours of Gowdy’s comments, BleachBit updates their website to say: “Last year when Clinton was asked about wiping her email server, she joked, ‘Like with a cloth or something?’ It turns out now that BleachBit was that cloth, according to remarks by Gowdy.” The website also notes, “As of the time of writing BleachBit has not been served a warrant or subpoena in relation to the investigation. … The cleaning process [of our program] is not reversible.” (BleachBit, 8/25/2016)
On September 2, 2016, the FBI’s final report on their Clinton email investigation will be released, and it will be revealed that BleachBit was used on Clinton’s server in late March 2015. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)
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 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)