Law & the Courts

The Corner

Podesta Leaks: Unremarkable Contacts Between Justice Department and Clinton Campaign, But Preposterous Clinton Tweet about Her E-Mails

There are many startling revelations about Hillary Clinton in the trove of e-mails hacked from John Podesta’s accounts and publicized by WikiLeaks. I have a column just up on the homepage that deals with some of them, arising out of a foreign policy email Mrs. Clinton sent to the White House. Nevertheless, I agree with Powerline’s John Hinderaker that there is nothing remarkable about the news of Justice Department contacts with the Clinton campaign regarding developments in a court case involving Clinton’s “private” emails. That story has been blown out of proportion.

To be clear, it is undeniable that the Justice Department colluded with the Clinton camp in tanking the e-mails investigation. I’ve been detailing this since early summer, when Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s infamous tarmac meeting with Bill Clinton was followed in short order by Mrs. Clinton’s FBI interview and Director James Comey’s recommendation against prosecution.

The narrower question raised by the WikiLeaks Podesta trove, however, is whether the e-mails just released show wrongdoing. They do not. They indicate friendly ties between Justice Department personnel and the Clinton campaign, which are neither illegal nor remarkable.

Significantly, as John observes, the newly revealed e-mails, from May 2015, do not relate to the criminal investigation of mishandling of classified information and destruction of government files by Clinton and her confederates. They pertain to a civil, Freedom of Information Act litigation, in which Vice News was trying to gain access to Clinton’s emails.

The e-mails show that someone from the Justice Department (whose identity is not provided) alerted Brian Fallon to a Justice Department submission just made in the case. Fallon, a former Justice Department official, is (and was) with the Clinton campaign. There is nothing unusual or inappropriate about the Justice Department’s alerting interested persons, especially former colleagues like Fallon, about matters of public record. Indeed, the Justice Department regularly puts out press releases to give the media notice about significant developments (e.g., publicly filed pleadings) and upcoming proceedings in cases.

Fallon also related to his Clinton campaign associates (e.g., Cheryl Mills) that “DOJ folks” had informed him that on May 19 there was to be a status conference – i.e., a court proceeding in which the presiding judge takes stock of what has happened in the case thus far and sets a schedule for future briefings, hearings, and the like. Again, there is no impropriety in providing a heads-up about upcoming public court proceedings. In its filing and argument to the court, the Justice Department apparently advocated on the State Department’s behalf for a production schedule that would have kept Clinton’s e-mails under wraps for eight months, until January 2016. One email indicates that even Cheryl Mills thought this request was unrealistically optimistic, and it was denied, with the court ordering earlier production.

Still, John notes that the Podesta leaks do include a new disclosure connected to Clinton’s e-mail scandal. It involves Camp Clinton’s publishing of a tweet, approved by Clinton, in which the former secretary claims:

I want the public to see my email. I asked State to release them. They said they will review them for release as soon as possible.

This was on March 5, 2015, meaning just after the New York Times broke the news about the homebrew servers by which then-Secretary Clinton systematically conducted State Department business on private e-mail. It was also just after the House Benghazi Committee issued a subpoena for those private e-mails.

So, even as Clinton was claiming to want the public to see her e-mails, 33,000 of her e-mails were being deleted, and a largely successful effort was made to destroy them. John writes:

Hillary’s statement was issued the day after the House’s Benghazi committee subpoenaed the emails from her illegal off-the-books server. We now know that a few weeks later, acting belatedly on Cheryl Mills’s instructions, a Platte River employee deleted 33,000 Hillary emails from her illegal server, many of which related to State Department business and some of which were under subpoena. And, as the Fallon emails reflect, the State Department, represented by DOJ, tried to delay release of any of the emails until January 2016, a ridiculous position.

I italicize “belatedly” to highlight the only place where John and I may part company. Paul Combetta, the Platte River Networks technician, maintains that, when he deleted and attempted to destroy the e-mails on the Clinton server in late March 2015, he was acting on instructions given by Ms. Mills in late 2014. The FBI and the Justice Department accepted Combetta’s version of events.

I do not believe Combetta’s version is credible (and I note that the FBI concedes that Combetta lied to investigators about various things in his interviews). That is to say, I do not accept that (a) Mills told Combetta to get rid of the e-mails in approximately December 2014; (b) Combetta neglected to follow this instruction at the time; (c) he had the famous “Oh s**t moment” in late March 2015, remembering Mills’ prior directive like a bolt from the blue; and (d) he then took it on himself, with no further guidance from or consultation with Camp Clinton, to delete the e-mails and attempt to destroy them with BleachBit software – i.e., the communications he had with Mills and other Clinton people right before and right after destroying the e-mails had nothing to do with it.

Obviously, John and I may have no disagreement. It may be that he is simply repeating, not adopting, the government’s official version of events, as outlined by FBI Director James Comey. Significantly, when pressed during congressional testimony, Comey would not say he believes Combetta, just that the he doesn’t “disbelieve” Combetta because the FBI never uncovered contradictory evidence. In any event, I don’t believe the government is required to stand by a highly dubious story from a highly unreliable witness just because it lacks evidence that conclusively disproves the story. So I can’t agree that “we now know” Combetta was acting “belatedly” on Mills’s instructions.

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