Congress Threatens to Compel Testimony of Ex-@StateDept Career Employee Over HRC’s Email Server

Posted: 3:34 am EDT
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We have not heard this name publicly cited before, but Politico is reporting that John Bentel, a 39 veteran of the State Department has now been snared in the Clinton email server saga. Politico says that according to a letter it obtained, Mr. Bentel has declined to be interviewed by GOP staff on the Senate Judiciary and Homeland Security committees. The chairmen of both committees, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), are reportedly “threatening to consider other ways to compel” Mr.  Bentel to discuss the matter.  Excerpt:

A State Department staffer who oversaw security and technology issues for Hillary Clinton is refusing to answer Senate investigators’ questions about the former secretary of state’s use of a private email server — marking the second time an ex-State employee has declined to talk to lawmakers.

John Bentel, a now retired State employee who managed IT security issues for the top echelon at the department, declined to be interviewed by GOP staff on the Senate Judiciary and Homeland Security committees, according to a letter obtained by Politico.
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The chairmen of both committees, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), are now threatening to consider other ways to compel him to discuss the matter.

“We are troubled by your refusal to engage with the committees even after repeated overtures of accommodation,” the letter to Bentel and his lawyer reads. “We need to speak with you. … We would, of course, prefer that you meet with us in a voluntary and informal manner, but we will consider other options if faced with a continuing lack of cooperation.”
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On Dec. 4, 2015, Judiciary and Homeland investigators reached out to Bentel’s lawyer to schedule an interview. But Turk told them Bentel had already been asked about the matter when he sat before the House Benghazi Committee. Turk said Bentel told the committee he had “no memory of knowledge” of the server issue and there was “little point” in telling another committee the same thing, according to the letter.

But both Senate panels say Bentel may have been aware of the sever, noting that their investigators have been told that some of Bentel’s subordinates knew about the home setup: “It appears that you were an integral figure in the operations of the Executive Secretariat and that you would have particular and unique knowledge relevant to the committees’ inquiry. Indeed, Department personal have noted that your subordinates in the Executive Secretariat’s office, who reported directly to you, had knowledge of Secretary Clinton’s private email server, which leads one to conclude that you were likely made aware of the server.”

Read more:

There does not seem to be an end in sight for these investigations. Certainly not in 2016.  This is a potential conundrum for folks even in the periphery of the former secretary’s orbit.  One can show up to these interviews and become a story, or one can refused to show up for these interviews and still become a story. Beyond becoming the news of the day, click here for what happens if one refuses to testify.

The law firm, MayerBrown says that Congress can compel the production of documents and sworn testimony from almost anyone at almost any time.  It has a good primer (PDF) on the Congress’s investigative authority and subpoena power:

“Although there is no legal obligation that a party comply with such a request, it is typically in the responding party’s best interest to do so, except where privileged or other sensitive information is involved [snip]. These informal requests present an important first opportunity for the responding party to shape the views and perceptions of the committee staff. Congressional staff members are required to work on a wide range of issues. They will rely heavily on a responding party whom they view as trustworthy to educate them on the issues under investigation. In addition, cooperating with an initial request allows the responding party to demonstrate that it is compliant and respectful, favorably influencing the staff and potentially mitigating the risk that members will publicly attack the responding party for noncooperation.”

Even if there is no immediate possibility of getting snared in these investigations, it’s probably a good reminder to review one’s private Professional Liability Insurance coverage. PLI may not just offer coverage on administrative and disciplinary matters, but also congressional, OIG investigations and civil suits. Outside these controversies, there is one very good reason for a PLI.  The Kent Case demonstrates that while FSOs are considered on duty 24/7, the 24/7 rule “. . . only defines the FSO’s duty to the state–not the states duty to the FSO.”  The case is Kashin v Kent dating back to 1998, decided by the Appeals Court in August 2006, and we think, it’s a must read case for FS employees.

Note that State Department regulations allow the reimbursement of up to 50%, or $175, whichever is less of the PLI cost for eligible covered employees (see 3 FAM 3840 – pdf). Membership with AFSA also affords one legal services when needed.  Check with AFSA. Also check with HR for guidance on PLI coverage.

 

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State/OIG: Classified Material Discovered in Unclassified Archives

Posted: 2:09 pm EDT
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The Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) Office of Evaluation and Special Projects is examining the State Department’s records preservation and the use of personal hardware and software by five Secretaries of State (Albright, Powell, Rice, Clinton, and Kerry) and their immediate staff. On March 4, State/OIG posted the OIG (Linick) – M (Kennedy) memorandum on classified material discovered in the archives and its removal for secured storage:

During the course of this evaluation, OIG searched unclassified archives and discovered records suggesting instances in which potentially sensitive material may have been transmitted via personal email accounts or other unclassified means to Secretary Powell or to Secretary Rice’s immediate staff. None of the material was marked as classified, but the substance of the material and “NODIS” (No Distribution) references in the body or subject lines of some of the documents suggested that the documents could be potentially sensitive. On October 19, 2015, OIG transmitted to the Department and separately to the Inspector General for the Intelligence Community (ICIG) for classification review 19 separate Office of the Secretary archival documents. The date range of the documents is from February 2003 through June 2008.
[…]
On December 29, 2015, the Department advised OIG that 12 of the 19 documents contain national security information classified at the Secret or Confidential levels based on a review by 9 Department bureaus and offices. Two of these documents were emails sent to Secretary Powell’s personal email account; the remaining were documents transmitted to personal or unclassified accounts belonging to a member of Secretary Rice’s immediate staff and another senior Department official.
[…]
State’s official response:  Office of the Executive Secretariat (S/ES) staff have removed from the Department’s unclassified network all of the email material identified as classified and placed it in secure storage. Additionally, retired electronic records provided to the Bureau of Administration that were initially stored in an unclassified system have b~enmoved to the appropriate classified system. With regard to paper records relating to former Secretaries Powell and Rice, the Department does not believe any action is warranted because these materials are currently stored in a facility certified to house classified Department record~up to the SECRET level.

Read the memo exchange here:

 

Related post:

Classified Material Discovered in Unclassified Archival Material | Posted On: March 04, 2016 Report Date: March 2016 | Report Number: ESP-16-02

 

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