Politics

Justice Dept. Granted Immunity To Technician Who Used BleachBit To Delete Hillary’s Emails

REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Chuck Ross Investigative Reporter

The Justice Department granted immunity to the computer technician misled federal investigators about his use of a software program called BleachBit to delete backups of Hillary Clinton’s emails, according to a new report.

The technician is Paul Combetta, according to The New York Times. He works for Platte River Networks, the company Clinton hired in 2013 to manage the email system that housed her State Department emails.

Combetta is the second person identified so far to have received immunity in exchange for cooperating with the FBI’s now-closed investigation into whether Clinton mishandled classified information on her private email server.

Bryan Pagliano, a former Clinton campaign staffer who set up and managed Clinton’s email server while at the State Department, was also granted immunity. The FBI interviewed him on Dec. 22.

According to the FBI’s Clinton email report, released Friday, Combetta used BleachBit, an open source software program described as a “digital shredder,” to delete backups of Clinton’s emails in the period between March 25-31, 2015, several weeks after The Times first reported Clinton’s exclusive use of a personal email account as secretary of state and after the House Select Committee on Benghazi issued a subpoena for her records.

Combetta misled the FBI about the deletion, the bureau’s report states.

During an interview this February, he claimed that he did not know of any preservation orders when he scrubbed the emails. But during an interview in May — seemingly after the Justice Department granted him immunity — Combetta said he was aware of the order and had an “oh shit” moment and deleted the Clinton email archives from PRN’s server and used BleachBit to delete Clinton’s email files.

Combetta took part in conference calls during the week of the deletions with Bill Clinton’s staff and attorneys for Hillary Clinton. According to the FBI’s report, he spoke with the former president’s staffers on March 25, 2015 and with Hillary Clinton attorneys Cheryl Mills and David Kendall on March 31.

“Investigation identified a PRN work ticket, which referenced a conference call among PRN, Kendall, and Mills on March 31, 2015,” reads the report.

The document also states that PRN’s lawyers advised Combetta “not to comment on the conversation with Kendall based upon the assertion of the attorney-client privilege.”

The timing of the events and meetings suggests coordination between PRN and the Clintons, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz recently asserted.

The ordeal “raises questions about whether Secretary Clinton, acting through her attorneys, instructed PRN to destroy records relevant to the then-ongoing congressional investigations,” wrote Chaffetz in a letter sent this week to PRN.

Chaffetz, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, also asked the PRN’s CEO about Combetta assertion of attorney-client privilege in his FBI interview.

“When asked about the conference call between Secretary Clinton’s attorneys and the PRN engineer, the engineer refused to answer the FBI’s questions and asserted a legal privilege. The FBI’s investigative file is not clear as to whether the engineer asserted the attorney-client privilege, the Fifth Amendment privilege, or both,” the letter reads.

The identification of Combetta raises other questions for Clinton. He is identified by name on an invoice that PRN submitted last September to Marcum LLP., the Clintons’ accountant.

The invoice, which was first reported last year by the website Complete Colorado, shows that PRN charged the Clintons as much as $5,300 for Combetta’s travel expenses and for consulting work he did on her email setup in September.

PRN’s invoice to Marcum LLC., the Clintons’ accountant, does not appear to include any expenses related to Combetta’s use of the BleachBit. But the existence of the document, dated Sept. 16, 2015, suggests that PRN also charged Clinton for Combetta’s BleachBit work.

One line item on the invoice is a $772.73 charge for “air, car and hotel for Paul Combetta.” Another is a $46 charge for “airport parking for Paul’s trip to PRN.”

PRN charged the Clintons up to $4,750 for other work that Combetta appears to have handled.

The company charged the Clintons $250 for “research and compliance” and to “make arrangements and book travel for trip to Denver for meetings.” A $1,250 fee is listed on Sept. 14 for “travel to Denver.” And $3,000 was charged for 12 hours of “federal interviews” and “travel back east,” according to the document. Combetta works for PRN from Rhode Island. PRN also charged the Clintons $250 for a Sept. 10 “call with Ken.” Ken is not identified on the invoice.

The firm billed the Clintons $53,000 in all for the tech work as well as public relations and legal expenses. It is unclear if the Clintons paid PRN. Marcum and PRN spokesman Andy Boian declined to answer that question when asked last year by TheDC.

A phone call placed to a phone number listed for Combetta was not answered. A voice mail was not returned.

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