- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 3, 2016

At least three conclusions can be drawn from media reports that federal prosecutors have agreed to an immunity deal in exchange for cooperation with former State Department computer tech Bryan Pagliano.

One, the Justice Department has launched a grand-jury investigation into allegations of mishandling classified emails during the tenure of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, according to a former federal prosecutor.

“You can assume that there’s a grand jury,” said Troy A. Eid, former U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado. “You don’t go out and investigate unless you’ve got a grand jury because there’s no authority to do subpoenas or compel people to do anything. With immunity agreements, that means by definition that there’s a grand jury investigation that’s going on some place.”

Two, Mr. Pagliano has material evidence related to the probe as well as exposure to prosecution. And three, granting him immunity was the only way to obtain the information.

“It’s very disfavored in the Department of Justice to give immunity deals,” Mr. Eid told the Washington Times. “If they can possibly get the information from witnesses, which they typically can do — they just don’t give [immunity deals] out, because they want to be able to prosecute them later.”

That federal prosecutors would agree to an immunity deal is “a pretty big thing,” if true, because they “forgo any chance of prosecuting this guy in order to gain information about other people that they’ve determined is material,” he said.

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Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon downplayed Thursday the significance of a possible immunity agreement, saying, “It doesn’t mean as much as it’s being conflated to mean today by some political pundits.”

“Because oftentimes, a lawyer out of an abundance of caution, and to preserve all of his or her clients, options will advise them to seek immunity in exchange for their testimony,” Mr. Fallon, a former Justice Department spokesman, told CNN. “It does not mean that their client did anything wrong, and in this case, Bryan Pagliano didn’t do anything wrong.”

Mr. Eid agreed that an immunity-agreement doesn’t prove Mr. Pagliano — or Mrs. Clinton — engaged in wrongdoing, but it does show that federal prosecutors believe someone did.

“What that tells me is that in all likelihood, there was a determination that’s there’s a reasonable probability that there’s some wrongdoing that took place there,” Mr. Eid said.

Meanwhile, Fox News reported Thursday that the FBI is investigating whether Mrs. Clinton and her aides shared passwords, which would violate rules governing foreign-service officers, and that she could be questioned in the next few weeks.

Former U.S. Attorney General Mike Mukasey told MSNBC on Thursday that Mrs. Clinton may have broken four laws, the most relevant one to the immunity deal being the law “that says you can’t put classified information in an unclassified setting.” The person who set up a private server would have to know how it communicated with U.S. government servers designed to handle classified information, he explained.

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There’s a final takeaway: The reports have done no favors for the Clinton campaign. Republicans have touted the possible immunity deal as evidence that the investigation is moving closer to the Democratic candidate.

“This is an ominous development for the Clinton campaign and for Democrats as a whole,” said Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a former state solicitor general and a candidate for the GOP presidential nod.

“This suggests that the investigation is moving to a whole other level and granting immunity means that they’ll now question this individuals and get all the facts of what he did and in particular, what Secretary Clinton told him, what her close associates told him, what they knew and what they instructed,” Mr. Cruz told Fox News’s Megyn Kelly.

Even some on the left — namely supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders, Mrs. Clinton’s rival for the Democratic presidential nomination — were buoyed by the reports.

“Connect the dots while being honest with these developments, and only one logical progression, if Democrats actually want to win this year, must take place: Bernie Sanders saves the Democratic Party from Hillary Clinton and defeats Donald Trump by 8 points,” said columnist H.A. Goodman in the Huffington Post.

Mr. Pagliano, who worked on Ms. Clinton’s 2008 campaign and set up her New York home server in 2009, had invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in September before a congressional panel.

Mr. Fallon recalled Ms. Clinton’s 11-hour appearance before the House Benghazi committee in October as proof of her willingness to cooperate.

“And the point was, she was willing to answer any question. So have all of her aides been,” Mr. Fallon said. “We wanted Bryan to do the same. He decided not to, but we’re pleased he is at least cooperating with the Justice Department review. We think the more answers he can give, the more it will clarify the Justice Department’s understanding that nothing inappropriate took place here.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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