Do Bill and Hillary Clinton sense a breakdown in whatever deal they may have struck with President Obama to protect her presidential ambitions? Is whatever negotiation they may have been conducting over her email server problem and any inside information she may have on him now imploding? Or have the Clintons “won” the negotiation with Mr. Obama, freeing them to hit him publicly to get her elected?
Something has happened, which has led Mr. Clinton to openly slam Mr. Obama: ” If you believe we’ve finally come to the point where we can put the awful legacy of the last eight years behind us ” he said recently. A few days later, Chelsea Clinton launched a broadside on Obamacare’s costs. A classic Clintonian one-two punch, coming just days before a report that the FBI is seeking interviews with Mrs. Clinton’s top aides, and likely Mrs. Clinton herself. Most investigations interview the target last.
What’s going on? No one knows for sure, but we have a clue.
In political scandals, sometimes it’s the person you’d least expect who says or does something that brings down the whole house of cards.
On July 16, 1973, Alexander Butterfield, former deputy assistant to President Nixon but a relatively minor White House player, revealed the existence of an Oval Office taping system to the Senate Watergate Committee and the nation. That disclosure began the denouement of the Nixon presidency.
Today, another relatively minor player may be revealing highly damaging information about someone who would like Mr. Nixon’s old job.
Former Hillary Clinton IT specialist Bryan Pagliano, a key witness in the investigation into her use of a private server, struck an immunity deal with the Justice Department and apparently has been singing. An intelligence source told Fox News that he has told the FBI a range of details about how her personal email system was set up and maintained. The source described him as a “devastating witness.”
Mr. Pagliano is a pivotal — perhaps the pivotal — key to Mrs. Clinton’s server and what was being done on and through it — and by whom.
Mr. Pagliano was in charge of server(s) since the 2008 campaign. He was paid $5,000 for “computer services” by the Clintons before he joined the State Department staff. After he started working there in May 2009, Mr. Pagliano continued to receive payments from the Clintons to maintain the server.
Mr. Pagliano can name all those who had access to the Clinton server and devices and when, and reportedly is doing so, allowing investigators to piece together an evidentiary timeline. It was emphasized to Fox News that Mrs. Clinton’s deliberate “creation” and “control” of the private server used for her official government business is the subject of “intense scrutiny.”
Mr. Pagliano can also testify to the security of the server and what was told to whom about it. Again, the server has the documents, including the at least 22 top secret and above top secret ones deemed too damaging to national security to publicly release under any circumstances. That is a matter of some risk for Mrs. Clinton.
In another deeply problematic development, the FBI is focused on documents she and her aides sent rather than received, because sending them demonstrates deliberate intent much more than receiving them would. It’s been reported that over 100 highly sensitive documents originated with her.
If there are major classified emails that were sent by Mrs. Clinton, then one of my sources said “there won’t be escape from prosecution”.
Mrs. Clinton’s defense has been that she neither sent nor received anything “marked classified” at the time. This is more Clintonian parsing: documents are classified “confidential,” “secret” or “top secret.” Further, in January 2009 Mrs. Clinton signed the classified information non-disclosure agreement indicating that she understood that classified information could be marked and unmarked, and that it included verbal communications.
The Pagliano immunity deal is a piece of the puzzle. But in what way? As a general matter, DOJ does not like to grant offers of immunity unless it is assured something major in return.
A second State Department staffer, John Bentel, who managed IT security issues for the secretary’s office, has refused to answer Senate investigators’ questions about her use of the server. They are now reportedly considering a subpoena to compel his testimony.
These investigations are proceeding along multiple tracks: the FBI and two Senate committees are looking into her possible mishandling of classified material; the FBI is also examining possible violations of public corruption laws involving the co-mingling of her work at the State Department with Clinton Foundation operations. Judges continue to rule on several lawsuits involving the State Department and FOIA requests. Possible legal jeopardy surrounds her.
There is also big political jeopardy. The calendar is a problem for the FBI and DOJ. The longer the investigation goes, the more manageable it is for the Clinton campaign. An impending nomination is her greatest weapon.
To paraphrase a key Watergate query: What did the secretary know and when did she know it? Perhaps Mr. Obama and the FBI know the answer, and that has made Mr. Clinton and his wife dangerously unhappy.
• Monica Crowley is editor of online opinion at The Washington Times.