Bypassing Obama DOJ, Chaffetz takes Watergate-like scandal to U.S. attorney
The chairman of the House oversight panel on Tuesday formally requested the top federal prosecutor for the District of Columbia investigate Hillary Clinton for obstruction of justice.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the Utah Republican who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips citing the investigative files the FBI turned over last week. Federal agents investigated whether Clinton’s handling of classified material on a private email server violated the law, and FBI Director James Comey ultimately declined to recommend criminal charges.
“In light of this information, the department should investigate and determine whether Secretary Clinton … violated statutes that prohibit destruction of records, obstruction of congressional inquiries, and concealment or cover up of evidence.”
In asking for the obstruction probe, Chaffetz cited evidence that a contractor working for Clinton deleted email archives in March 2015, despite knowing they were the subject of a congressional subpoena. Chaffetz also cited a conference call with Clinton’s attorneys days before, a work ticket created the day the emails were wiped, and the use of a software program called BleachBit, designed to destroy electronic data so that it cannot be recovered.
“In light of this information, the department should investigate and determine whether Secretary Clinton or her employees and contractors violated statutes that prohibit destruction of records, obstruction of congressional inquiries, and concealment or cover up of evidence material to a congressional investigation,” he wrote.
The allegations against Clinton mirror those made a generation ago against President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal. Members of Congress drew up impeachment papers — although the president resigned before impeachment proceedings could be carried out. Here were the charges:
- Obstruction of justice. Nixon stood accused of using his powers to “delay, impede, and obstruct the investigation … to cover up, conceal and protect those responsible; and to conceal the existence and scope of other unlawful covert activities.”
- Abuse of power. Nixon faced accusations of “impairing the due and proper administration of justice in the conduct of lawful inquiries.”
- Defiance of subpoenas. Nixon faced allegations that he “failed without lawful cause or excuse to produce papers and things as directed by duly authorized subpoenas issued by the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives.”
The obstruction probe Chaffetz requested focuses on similar alleged misconduct. The congressman asked the U.S. attorney to determine whether Clinton used her office to cover up misconduct by aides at the State Department and Platte River Network, the company that installed a computer server in the basement of her suburban New York home.
Clinton also faces Nixon-like allegations that she thwarted subpoenas. In Clinton’s case, those subpoenas came from Congress after The New York Times reported the existence of her private server. The subpoenas ordered that all email records be preserved. Instead, according to the FBI files made public last week, a Platte River Network employee frantically destroyed thousands of emails that he thought had already been deleted a year before.
Clinton told the FBI that she knew nothing about those deletions.
Chaffetz told conservative radio host Hew Hewitt Monday that his committee would hold hearings.
"I issued a preservation letter in September of 2012. [Rep.] Darrell Issa put one out. [Rep.] Trey Gowdy put out a subpoena," he said. "And then if you look at the proximity of when documents were destroyed, you know, we've got some questions."
The House Select Committee on Benghazi on Sept. 20, 2012, requested information related to the terrorist attacks in Libya that resulted in the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. On Dec. 13 of that year, the committee conteacted Clinton to ask whether she or her senior staff used personal email to conduct official business and on Dec. 2, 2014, asked Clinton's attorney for all official records in her custody. Then, on March 3, the committee sent orders to Clinton to preserve documents.
Later that month, Clinton claimed during a news conferences that she provided all emails "that could possibly be work-related." Chaffetz noted that the FBI refuted that claim.
On March 25, Clinton attorney David Kendall and Sate Department Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills held a conference call with the Platte River Network engineer who maintained Clinton's server. The engineer subsequently declined to answer questions from the FBI, asserting either a Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination or attorney-client privilege. (The FBI's notes are unclear as to which legal privilege the engineer cited).
Six days later, employees at the company created a work ticket. Although the FBI did not provide details about that work ticket, the engineer used the BleachBit program to shred the digital archives several times.
"This timeline of events raises questions as to whether the PRN engineer violated federal statutes that prohibit destruction of evidence and obstruction of a congressional investigation, among others, whether the engineer erased Secretary Clinton's email contrary to congressional preservation orders and a subpoena," Chaffetz wrote in a letter seeking additional information from the company.
Chaffetz told Hewitt that his committee plans to press the FBI for information the agency redacted before forwarding its investigative files. He said he wanted to find out how the State Department "essentially lied to the media, the world, and the public" in response to requests under the Freedom of Information Act.
"And remember, it's our information," he said. "These aren't Hillary Clinton's emails. These are federal records. And so we want to know from the State Department how they misled the American public for so long."