The recent release of House Benghazi Committee interview transcripts includes one from a now-retired State Department official who appears to have given inconsistent statements about his knowledge of Hillary Clinton’s email practices.
During an interview with the committee last year, John Bentel, the former director of the Executive Secretariat’s information resource management division, which manages records and communications for State Department’s leadership, claimed he had no knowledge of Clinton’s use of personal email account or private server.
But emails recently released by Judicial Watch — as well as findings laid out in a recent State Department inspector general’s report — appear to show that he was involved in discussions about Clinton’s email use. He also received a memo in March 2009 which showed that Clinton’s private server was set to be installed at her New York residence.
Further complicating the matter are questions from Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, who has asked Bentel whether his legal expenses are being paid by Clinton or some of her associates.
Bentel, through his lawyer, Beltway veteran Randy Turk, recently refused to answer that question. He also declined Grassley’s request for a meeting. Likewise, Bentel refused to meet with the State Department inspector general. He is also reportedly not responding to requests from current State Department officials.
Bentel, who retired in 2012, first talked to investigators about Clinton’s email system during a June 30, 2015 interview with the Benghazi Committee. During that session he claimed to have no knowledge of Clinton’s email practices.
He said that he was “not aware” of “any conversations that Secretary Clinton or a representative on her behalf had with [redacted] or anyone else in her division about establishing an official email account.”
And asked when he first learned that Clinton used a personal email account and server, Bentel said that occurred “whenever it came out” in “the papers.”
“So you as the director of the IT services for the principals of the State Department was not — you were not consulted in any way regarding her use of a personal email account for official business?” Bentel was asked.
“No,” he said.
But emails referenced in State’s IG report and recently released by Judicial Watch cast doubt on those claims.
In one Aug. 30, 2011 email, Bentel told Clinton aide Monica Hanley that his division had already created a State Department email account for the then-secretary of state.
“We actually have an account previously set up: SSHRC@state.gov,” he wrote.
“There are some old emails, but none since Jan ’11 — we could get rid of them,” he continued, adding that “you should be aware that any email would go through the Department’s infrastructure and subject to FOIA searches.”
Bentel was also a recipient of a March 17, 2009 email with the subject line “Secretary Residential Installation Hotwash.”
The document listed communications hardware that was set to be installed at Clinton’s New York residence.
The first item on the list is a “server,” which is described as an unclassified partner system. It was to be located in the bathroom closet of Clinton’s basement, according to the document.
The State Department IG report has perhaps the most damning evidence undermining Bentel’s claims.
Two staffers working under Bentel told IG investigators that they met separately with him in late 2010 to express their concerns and frustrations over Clinton’s email system.
They said that Bentel dismissed their concerns, claiming — falsely, it turns out — that the system had been approved by State’s legal office.
“According to the staff member, the Director stated that the Secretary’s personal system had been reviewed and approved by Department legal staff and that the matter was not to be discussed any further,” the IG’s report reads, noting that the State Department’s office of the legal adviser never signed off on Clinton’s server.
“According to the other S/ES-IRM staff member who raised concerns about the server, the Director stated that the mission of S/ES-IRM is to support the Secretary and instructed the staff never to speak of the Secretary’s personal email system again,” the report continues.
If Bentel did indeed mislead the Benghazi Committee, he could face criminal charges. While he was not placed under oath during the interview, it is a crime to lie to Congress.
“Do you understand that witnesses who knowingly provide false testimony could be subject to a prosecution for perjury or for making false statements?” Bentel was asked during the interview.
“Yes,” he replied.
In addition to ramifications for Bentel, any false claims could have a negative impact on Clinton if Grassley’s hunch about Bentel is accurate.
The Iowa Republican has repeatedly pressed Bentel and his attorney, Beltway veteran Randy Turk, about whether the retired government official has made any arrangements with Clinton to help cover his legal costs.
In a letter sent to Grassley earlier this month, Turk declined to provide an answer to that question.
“We and Mr. Bentel also again respectfully decline to answer your questions regarding our professional relationship with our client,” he wrote. (RELATED: ‘Filegate’ Attorney Represents State Dept. Official Who Is Silent On Hillary’s Server)
But Turk, who did not respond to requests for comment, has ties to previous Clinton scandals.
As The Daily Caller has previously reported, Turk represented a White House official in the 1990s named Craig Livingstone who was implicated in the so-called “FileGate” scandal. Livingstone, who was head of White House personnel security, was accused of improperly handling FBI files of hundreds of Reagan and George W. Bush White House officials.
Livingstone was never charged in the case, but it later came to light that the Clintons helped fund his legal defense. The Clintons solicited donations from friends and allies to help pay for Turk’s services.
This article has been updated with new information.