Unpacking the Apparent Trump-Hillary Double Standard: For Her, the FBI Helped Obstruct Its Own Investigation

The Oct. 9, 2016 debate: Donald Trump tells Hillary Clinton “you would be in jail” over her non-public electronic mail server. That was earlier than the difficulty of equal justice relating to the two obtained much more intense.

By Paul Sperry, RealClearInvestigations
September 15, 2022

Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch obtained proof that a pc contractor working underneath the route of Hillary Clinton’s authorized crew destroyed subpoenaed information that the former secretary of state saved on a non-public electronic mail server she initially saved at her New York house, after which lied to investigators about it. Yet no costs have been introduced in opposition to Clinton, her attorneys, or her paid advisor.

Paul Combetta, laptop contractor: Emailed a colleague he was a part of a “Hilary[sic] coverup operation.”


The leniency accorded to Clinton contrasts with current strikes by Attorney General Merrick Garland to aggressively examine former President Trump and his attorneys for allegedly obstructing investigators’ efforts to find subpoenaed information at his Florida house. Legal specialists say the obvious double customary might present a helpful protection for Trump and his authorized crew.

The therapy of Clinton included a cope with her protection crew that required the FBI to, in impact, impede its personal investigation. During its 2016 probe, the bureau agreed along with her attorneys’ calls for to destroy two laptop computer arduous drives containing subpoenaed proof instantly after trying to find recordsdata on them. They did so whereas the data was nonetheless being sought by congressional investigators and though the attorneys had served underneath Clinton at the State Department and have been topics of the FBI’s investigation. In truth, the laptops have been theirs.

Long earlier than it bowed to the request, the FBI suspected Clinton’s attorneys performed hide-and-seek with proof, making the concession that rather more baffling.


David Kendall, Clinton lawyer: A convention name with Combetta, after which Clinton’s emails vanished. 


The scandal first erupted on March 2, 2015, when information broke that Clinton had secretly arrange a non-government electronic mail server in the basement of her Chappaqua, N.Y., mansion in the weeks earlier than she began her job at Foggy Bottom in early 2009. She used the unauthorized and unsecured system to conduct official State Department enterprise – together with transmitting and storing categorised data – which allowed her to bypass legally mandated archiving of her authorities information.

The subsequent day, the House Select Committee on Benghazi despatched her legal professional David Kendall a letter advising his consumer to protect all digital information created since January 2009 and particularly to not delete any emails on her non-public server. The panel then issued a subpoena for information associated to the lethal terrorist assault on the U.S. consulate in Libya.

Three weeks later, on March 25, Kendall and former Clinton chief of employees Cheryl Mills, who additionally acted as her private legal professional, requested a pc contractor with Platte River Networks, which hosted Clinton’s secret electronic mail server, to hitch a convention name with them, based on FBI paperwork. Over the subsequent week, the contractor, Paul Combetta, deleted the complete electronic mail archive from Clinton’s server utilizing a software program program referred to as BleachBit, which digitally “shreds” recordsdata to forestall their restoration.


Cheryl Mills: Clinton lawyer and chief of employees: Got an immunity deal.


All advised, the paid Clinton agent scrubbed 31,830 emails from her server and backup recordsdata. In addition, he completely eliminated duplicates of the emails from the laptops of Mills and one other Clinton lawyer and aide, Heather Samuelson, the place in addition they had been saved. According to  FBI information, Combetta knew the paperwork he destroyed have been underneath subpoena. 

In July 2015, the FBI counterintelligence division opened a prison investigation, codenamed “Midyear Exam,” in response to a referral from the intelligence group inspector basic regarding Clinton’s unsecure server. The FBI predicated the opening of the probe on the potential compromise of extremely categorised Sensitive Compartmented Information. Emails categorised at the SCI stage have been later discovered on Clinton’s server.

Some profession FBI brokers engaged on the case, which was tightly managed inside headquarters and deemed a “SIM,” or delicate investigative matter, thought they’d a slam-dunk case of obstruction, a key aggravating issue for prosecuting instances involving the mishandling of categorised data or authorities information. All they needed to do was get Combetta in a chair and stress him to implicate the high-level Clinton surrogates who advised him what they wished finished.

LinkedIn/Heather Samuelson

Heather Samuelson, Clinton lawyer and aide: Got an immunity deal.

LinkedIn/Heather Samuelson

Several investigators believed “that Combetta’s truthful testimony was important for assessing prison intent for Clinton and different people, as a result of he would be capable of inform them whether or not Clinton’s attorneys — Mills, Samuelson or Kendall — had instructed him to delete emails,” based on a 2018 report by the DOJ’s inspector basic.

But throughout voluntary interviews with FBI brokers, Combetta falsely denied he had “deleted or purged” Clinton’s emails from the server or back-ups, and insisted Clinton’s authorized crew by no means requested that he achieve this.

Combetta refused to speak to investigators about the essential March 2015 convention name with Clinton’s attorneys that preceded his purge of proof, the solely matter he refused to discuss. So investigators and prosecutors agreed to present him immunity and interview him once more. Still, they by no means obtained his account of the convention name. A written FBI abstract of the interview, generally known as an FD-302 report, doesn’t reference the name, indicating that brokers didn’t comply with up on a key line of questioning in the investigation.

Investigators declined to pursue different facets of the case as effectively. They obtained an electronic mail during which Combetta advised a colleague he was a part of a “Hilary[sic] coverup operation” and stated he would elaborate later at a “get together.” Asked about it, Combetta claimed he was simply joking; the FBI accepted his clarification and didn’t seem to comply with up with the colleague to study what they mentioned at the get together.

The FBI additionally accepted one other clarification for why Combetta, utilizing the display screen title “stonetear,” sought technical help on the Reddit discussion board on the best way to “strip out” the electronic mail addresses of a “VERY VIP” consumer from a “a bunch of archived electronic mail,” in an obvious reference to Clinton. (After Internet sleuths revealed stonetear was a reputation Combetta utilized in different boards, he started scrubbing his posts from the net.)

An FBI case supervisor advised the inspector basic that “he believed Combetta ought to have been charged with false statements for mendacity a number of instances,” based on the IG report, however prosecutors refused to indict him. The FBI additionally obtained forensic proof from the server that might set up that Combetta made the deletions, however prosecutors balked at charging him with obstruction.


James Comey, FBI director: Forced to defend the Combetta immunity deal in the face of agent dissent.


Then-FBI Director James Comey personally agreed with the DOJ determination to present Combetta immunity slightly than sweating him in a grand jury field, which generally is finished with topics who’re mendacity, to get them to inform the reality.

Comey was compelled to defend the deal in an October 2016 convention with FBI supervisors, who have been listening to complaints from rank-and-file brokers that headquarters handed out immunity offers “like sweet” to Clinton witnesses. Comey defined the bureau wasn’t all in favour of prosecuting a small fish like Combetta, and sought solely to therapeutic massage him for data to “make a case on Hillary Clinton,” though inside FBI emails reveal Comey already had determined to let Clinton off the hook. He didn’t clarify why the contractor hadn’t been pressured extra with threats to carry costs in opposition to him for mendacity to brokers, the conventional investigative methodology for getting such an uncooperative witness to show.

“With respect to Combetta, we discovered his actions in deleting Clinton’s emails in violation of a congressional subpoena and preservation order after which mendacity about it to the FBI to be notably critical,” DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz stated in his report. “We requested the prosecutors why they selected to grant him immunity as an alternative of charging him with obstruction of justice.”


Michael Horowitz, Justice Department inspector basic, on Combetta: “We requested the prosecutors why they selected to grant him immunity as an alternative of charging him with obstruction of justice.”


One DOJ prosecutor advised Horowitz’s investigators they wished to make Combetta “really feel comfy sufficient” that he would ultimately cooperate on his personal. Another stated they weren’t all in favour of prosecuting a bit participant for mendacity and that doing so would simply bathroom down the investigation, which they have been dashing to wrap up “effectively earlier than” the November 2016 presidential election.

“I used to be involved that we might find yourself with obstruction instances in opposition to some poor schmuck on the down that had a crappy legal professional who [was] hiding the ball,” the unidentified prosecutor stated.

“And so at the finish of the day, I used to be like, look, let’s immunize him. We’ve obtained to get from Point A to Point B. Point B is to make a prosecution determination about Hillary Clinton and her senior employees effectively earlier than the election if potential,” the prosecutor added. “And this man along with his dumb legal professional performing some half-assed obstruction didn’t curiosity me. So I used to be completely in favor of giving him immunity.”

The prosecutors reported on to then-DOJ counterespionage official David Laufman, who would later play a key position in the discredited Russiagate probe, together with opening investigations on a number of Trump advisers and signing off on wiretap warrants concentrating on at the least one Trump aide, though he knew they have been primarily based on a fabricated file financed by the Clinton marketing campaign.

Prosecutors additionally gave Clinton aides Mills and Samuelson immunity offers, over the objections of some FBI investigators who wished to carry them earlier than a grand jury to clarify their actions.

A handful of brokers additionally argued for issuing a search warrant to grab their private laptops, which they used to add all the emails from the Clinton server and cull away supposedly “private” messages that they claimed have been out of the attain of investigators. Instead, prosecutors opted to evaluation the laptops by means of an uncommon consent settlement, which restricted searches to sure recordsdata and particular dates – and nothing earlier than or after Clinton’s tenure as secretary, which put any electronic mail exchanges with Combetta out of attain – and required the FBI to destroy the arduous drives after conducting the restricted search, based on documents outlining the settlement.

“This is just astonishing given the chance that proof on the laptops could be of curiosity to congressional investigators,” former Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley and three different GOP congressional leaders complained in a letter to DOJ at the time.

In his discuss at the FBI convention, Comey defined that he needed to agree with prosecutors and protection attorneys to restrict the search due to “big considerations” that attorney-client privilege and legal professional work product might be found on the laptops, a priority that apparently did not register in the broad, sweeping search of Trump’s information. Agents scooped up at the least 520 pages of attorney-client privileged data throughout their raid of Mar-a-Lago, based on a federal choose who has ordered an impartial inspector to evaluation the seized information for privileged materials.

Mills and Samuelson, who agreed to reply solely a slender scope of questions to forestall investigators from soliciting privileged data, have been later allowed to take a seat in on Clinton’s personal interview, which the FBI performed after Comey had already drafted a press release exonerating her of mishandling categorised data and obstructing justice. The director famously delivered the assertion in a July 5, 2016, press convention, proclaiming the FBI discovered “no proof” that Clinton’s emails have been “deliberately deleted in an effort to hide them.”


Trump and legal professional Christina Bobb: She’s a specific focus of investigators. 


Trump Didn’t Get ‘the Same (Gentle) Treatment’

Grassley says the FBI “pulled its punches” investigating Clinton compared to Trump, who he says is being harshly investigated and prosecuted for the similar offenses.

“Trump has not been offered the similar (light) therapy given to Secretary Clinton and her associates,” Grassley asserted in a current assertion. 
To make sure, the company has used extra intrusive strategies probing Trump for related allegations of mishandling categorised data and concealing paperwork underneath subpoena.

Unlike the Clinton probe, the place investigators and prosecutors sought to acquire proof by consent every time potential, the division has used a federal grand jury to difficulty subpoenas to Trump for 1000’s of paperwork, in addition to surveillance video footage, from his Palm Beach property. They additionally obtained a search warrant to raid his non-public workplace and household bedrooms. In addition to seizing greater than 11,000 paperwork, brokers confiscated some 1,800 private gadgets, together with presents, picture albums, clothes, passports, and medical and tax information, based on court records.

Clinton and her representatives have been spared such heavy-handed ways and indignities, the senator identified.

“Even although Secretary Clinton and her attorneys didn’t hand over categorised information of their possession, they weren’t topic to a raid just like what occurred at Mar-a-Lago,” Grassley stated.


David Laufman, key participant in Russiagate probe and caustic Trump critic: Now the ex-President “has vital prison publicity” to an obstruction rap.


In the finish, computer-forensics investigators and intelligence analysts have been capable of decide that at the least 81 categorised electronic mail chains have been transmitted and saved on Clinton’s unclassified private server. Their ranges ranged from CONFIDENTIAL to TOP SECRET/SPECIAL ACCESS PROGRAM, a extremely delicate designation which makes entry to sure data restricted even to Secret and Top Secret clearance-holders and not using a “have to know.” By comparability, the FBI recovered 100 paperwork with categorised markings from its raid of Trump’s house. They vary in stage from CONFIDENTIAL to TOP SECRET.

In a court docket submitting final month, DOJ stated it developed proof that presidential information held in a basement storage room at Mar-a-Lago might have been hid or eliminated previous to a June go to by FBI brokers to choose up categorised paperwork, suggesting potential makes an attempt to impede investigators.

Investigators issued a grand jury subpoena in May for the information and visited Mar-a-Lago on June 3 to choose them up. When they obtained there, the submitting stated, a Trump lawyer handed them a big envelope containing paperwork. Another lawyer appearing as the official custodian of Trump’s information licensed in a sworn assertion that they performed a “diligent” seek for categorised papers in response to the subpoena. Over the subsequent two months nonetheless, officers “developed proof that authorities information have been probably hid and faraway from the storage room and that efforts have been probably taken to impede the authorities’s investigation,” DOJ stated in its submitting, with out specifying what it believes was faraway from the room, or by whom. The affidavit defined that this suspicion is why it despatched some 30 armed brokers again to Mar-a-Lago early final month to conduct an enormous search of the property.

Prosecutors say the further paperwork they discovered with categorised markings forged doubt on claims by Trump’s attorneys that they have been absolutely cooperative with the subpoena. They are said to be focusing their investigation on Trump lawyer Christina Bobb, specifically, who allegedly acted as the custodian who signed the certification.

Bobb, who has not been charged with a criminal offense, didn’t reply to requests for remark. Trump’s authorized crew has advised the court docket that the DOJ “considerably mischaracterized” the June assembly with Bobb and one other lawyer, however didn’t elaborate.

Laufman, the prime prosecutor in the Clinton case and a caustic critic of Trump in the media, believes Trump must also be nervous and “has vital prison publicity” to an obstruction rap. “Either [his lawyers] wittingly lied or they obtained that assurance from their consumer, during which case Trump has jeopardy,” Laufman, an Obama appointee and donor, advised Politico.


Donald Skupsky, records-retention professional: Clinton legally weak as a result of “she by no means halted nor protested once more any information destruction.”


But at this level, investigators can solely speculate that paperwork have been deliberately moved or destroyed to keep away from compliance with subpoenas, which might be a felony. Legal specialists notice that prosecutors have been cautious to say of their submitting that paperwork have been “probably” hid and that efforts have been “probably” taken to impede the investigation, indicating they nonetheless lack stable proof.

“It just isn’t clear from the submitting if the FBI has proof of intentional acts of concealment versus negligence,” George Washington University regulation professor Jonathan Turley stated.

By distinction, prosecutors had stable materials proof – together with emails, cellphone calls, work tickets and laptop forensics – that Clinton operatives conspired to not simply conceal however truly destroy paperwork underneath subpoena in violation of Section 1519 of the federal prison code, the similar statute cited by the FBI in its warrant to look Mar-a-Lago. It bars the destruction or falsification of any paperwork or supplies “with the intent to impede, impede or affect” an investigation.”

“Did Hillary Clinton violate 18 USC 1519 when emails from her non-public electronic mail server have been destroyed throughout authorities investigation? Possibly, sure,” said Donald Skupsky, a lawyer specializing in authorities records-retention procedures.

“In December 2014, she did instruct her crew to destroy remaining emails after 60 days. And in the end, she by no means halted nor protested once more any information destruction,” he added. “Under 18 USC 1519, Clinton might have hid and coated up the destruction of information.”

University of Maryland Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice

Jim Trusty, Trump lawyer: Keeping allegedly categorised papers is akin to “an overdue library e-book.”

University of Maryland 

Both the Trump and Clinton instances additionally invoke Section 2071, a federal statute which prohibits the willful concealment, removing, or destruction of federal information. But in investigating Clinton’s homebrew server scheme, prosecutors declined to pursue a Section 2071 cost as a result of they argued the statute had “by no means been used to prosecute people for trying to keep away from Federal Records Act necessities by failing to make sure that authorities information are filed appropriately,” based on the IG report. Some authorized specialists say the similar customary ought to apply to Trump, whom the DOJ stated tried to keep away from Presidential Records Act necessities.

Trump lawyer Jim Trusty stated Trump’s retention of allegedly categorised papers is akin to “an overdue library e-book” and complained that Biden administration prosecutors are holding him “to a distinct customary than anybody else” as a result of he’s a Republican.

U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon earlier this month issued an injunction quickly barring the Justice Department from utilizing the seized materials in its espionage investigation till a Special Master can evaluation it for privileged and different data exterior the scope of the probe.

Despite the order, the obstruction a part of DOJ’s probe can transfer ahead. Among different issues, investigators can proceed to interview witnesses about whether or not subpoenaed paperwork have been moved or hid.

“DOJ is in the midst of an ongoing prison investigation pertaining to potential violations of the Espionage Act, in addition to obstruction of justice, 18 USC 1519, and illegal concealment or removing of presidency information, 18 USC 2071,” DOJ chief counterintelligence prosecutor Jay Bratt said in a current court docket submitting.


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