The House’s investigative committee voted Thursday to hold Hillary Clinton’s chief tech staffer in contempt of Congress after Bryan Pagliano failed, for a second time, to show up and testify about the secret emails of his former boss.
Mrs. Clinton last year urged Mr. Pagliano to cooperate with investigations into her emails, but he has refused to talk to two congressional committees. He did speak to the FBI after being granted immunity.
The 19-15 committee vote Thursday is a recommendation, which now goes to the whole House.
If the contempt charge is approved, it likely would be up to the administration to pursue the case against Mr. Pagliano.
The situation would be uncomfortable for President Obama, who has gone out of his way to campaign for Mrs. Clinton, his former secretary of state, in her presidential bid.
“We are left with no choice” after Mr. Pagliano refused to show up for the second time this month, said House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican.
Mr. Pagliano’s attorneys have said he would appear behind closed doors to assert his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. They said Mr. Pagliano didn’t want the public attention — and damaging video footage — that would result if he appeared publicly.
Mr. Chaffetz said it was difficult to deal with Mr. Pagliano’s phalanx of attorneys, who even refused to accept a subpoena on his behalf. Mr. Chaffetz ended up ordering the U.S. Marshals Service to serve the subpoena personally.
That irked Democrats, who said Republicans have orchestrated their entire email inquiry to embarrass Mrs. Clinton in the middle of her campaign.
“Where is our investigation of Donald Trump? His potentially fraudulent business practices?” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the committee. “This is an abuse of authority and taxpayer dollars to inappropriately affect the presidential election.”
Mr. Pagliano’s attorneys have said that if he did appear, he would assert his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, just as he did for the congressional investigation into the Benghazi attack.
Mr. Cummings said given that, there is no public policy reason to have Mr. Pagliano make the assertion in person and that coercion would be an effort to harass Mr. Pagliano.
Mr. Chaffetz said Mr. Pagliano shouldn’t have any fear of testifying because he has FBI immunity. Mr. Cummings, though, said the immunity is limited.
Republicans said the FBI has closed the case, so the only trouble Mr. Pagliano would face is if he lies to Congress.
Mrs. Clinton’s secret email server and account, which she used to conduct government business during her time in the State Department, have spawned multiple investigations.
At a hearing this month, a former employee of the Clinton family and charitable foundation, who helped set up the server that handled Mrs. Clinton’s emails, told Congress that Mr. Pagliano was the key figure responsible for maintaining the server.
Mr. Pagliano held a job at the State Department even while he helped Mrs. Clinton with her server, Republicans said.