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.
[…]
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.”
[…]
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.”

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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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Senator Grassley Explains Hold on Thomas Shannon’s Nomination to be @StateDept’s #4

Posted: 2:21 am EDT
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Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has placed a hold on the nomination of Ambassador Thomas Shannon as Foggy Bottom’s next “P.” Below is an excerpt in the Congressional Record with Mr. Grassley explaining his hold (see Senator Grassley Lifts Hold on 20 Foreign Service Nominations, Places New Hold on “P”). He stated that he is not questioning the credentials of Ambassador Shannon in any way; just pushing the State Department to “respond to congressional inquiries in a timely and reasonable manner.”

Mr. GRASSLEY. Mr. President, I intend to object to any unanimous  consent request at the present time relating to the nomination of  Thomas A. Shannon, Jr., of Virginia, a career member of the Senior  Foreign Service, class of Career Ambassador, to be an Under Secretary of State, Political Affairs.

I will object because the Department of State has still not responded  to almost a dozen investigative letters dating back to 2013. In  addition, on August 20, 2015, my staff met with Department officials in  an effort to prioritize material for production. The Department has failed to comply with its commitments, producing material late, failing  to provide all requested material, and even failing to provide material to the Senate Judiciary Committee contemporaneously with providing the same documents to Freedom of Information Act, FOIA, requestors. These are the same complaints that I raised on September 30, 2015, when I placed a hold on Brian James Egan of Maryland to be legal advisor of the Department of State. Apparently, the Department simply does not understand its obligation to respond to congressional inquiries in a timely and reasonable manner.

Two and a half years ago I began a broad inquiry into the government’s use of special government employee programs. I did not single out the State Department on this issue. To the contrary, I wrote to 16 different government agencies. Two and a half years have passed since I began my inquiry, and the State Department has still not produced the materials I have requested or certified they do not exist.

 In addition to the investigation of the Department’s special government employee program, I am also investigating the Department’s  compliance with the FOIA as it pertains to Secretary Clinton’s private server that was used to transit and store government information. The Minority Leader has questioned whether the Judiciary Committee’s jurisdiction extends to these matters. I would note that the special government employee designation is an exception to Federal criminal conflict-of-interest laws. Those laws are within the jurisdiction of the Judiciary Committee, as is FOIA.
[…]
As a further example of the Department’s continued intransigence, I requested all SF-312 “Classified Non-Disclosure Agreements” for Secretary Clinton, Ms. Huma Abedin, and Ms. Cheryl Mills on August 5, 2015. My staff met with Department personnel three times since that letter and participated in dozens of emails and phone calls in an effort to acquire these documents. In addition, after the Department complained that it had received too many requests from me, my staff produced a prioritized list of requests to assist the Department in producing responses. At number three on that list were the SF-312 forms, and at number one are the official emails of Mr. Pagliano. Notably, during conversations with my staff on the subject, Department personnel stated that they could not locate those forms with the exception of only page 2 of Ms. Abedin’s SF-312 exit form. On November 5, 2015, the Department produced SF-312 entrance forms for Secretary Clinton, Ms. Abedin, and Ms. Mills to a FOIA requestor but failed to provide the same to the Committee. Clearly, the documents exist.
[…]
The continued intransigence and lack of cooperation make it clear that the Department did not care enough about their Foreign Service  officer candidates to “get in gear” and begin to produce responses to  my oversight letters. Accordingly, I have released my hold on these officer candidates and have escalated to Mr. Shannon. The Department of State’s refusal to fully cooperate with my  investigations is unacceptable. As I have noted before on the floor of the Senate, the Department continues to promise results, but there has been very little or no follow-through. The Department’s good faith will be measured in documents delivered and witnesses provided.

My objection is not intended to question the credentials of Mr. Shannon in any way. However, the Department must recognize that it has an ongoing obligation to respond to congressional inquiries in a timely and reasonable manner.

Read the full entry in the Congressional Record here.

 

 

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Senators Seek to INTVW @StateDept CIO Taylor; Wait, Wasn’t He Overseas When Pagliano Was Hired?

Posted: 3:05 am EDT
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Two Senate chairmen are pressing the State Department for more information about the staffer who maintained Hillary Clinton’s controversial email server, including requesting an audience with his former supervisor.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) asked that Steven Taylor, State’s chief information officer, sit for a closed-door interview about the duties of his former subordinate Bryan Pagliano, according to a letter the senators sent to Secretary of State John Kerry.
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Mr. Taylor is a member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Minister Counselor. He has been the Chief Information Officer of the State Department since April 3, 2013. He was previously appointed as Acting CIO on August 1, 2012. Preceding his assignment as CIO, he was the Department’s Deputy Chief Information Officer (DCIO) and Chief Technology Officer of Operations from June, 2011.

We should note that Secretary Clinton left the State Department on February 1, 2013, two months before Mr. Taylor was appointed CIO. In fact, according to this official biography, prior to his DCIO assignment in 2011, he served as Management Counselor in Cairo and Athens. So we’re guessing that between 2005 to 2011, this poor man was posted overseas and nowhere near the hiring desk when Mr. Pagliano was brought into the IT bureau of the State Department in 2009.

Not that it’s going to matter. The senators will probably drag Mr. Taylor before a closed-door interview still the same. Pagliano joined the State Department in May 2009. Maybe the senators should try the Bureau of Human Resources for their hiring and work duties questions?

Foggy Bottom’s Email Debacle Spreads Beyond Clinton Inner Circle

We don’t think this is going to stop at Mr. Taylor.  On September 14, conservative group Judicial Watch has also released a heavily redacted email, obtained through its FOIA lawsuit, between State Department official Eric F. Stein and Margaret P. Grafeld, dated April 21, 2015, with the subject “HRC Emails.”  Stein is deputy director of Global Information Systems (GIS) at the State Department and Grafeld is deputy assistant secretary of Global Information Systems (GIS). Stein reports to Grafeld that the “gaps” in Clinton’s emails include:

  • Jan. 21 – March 17, 2009 (Received Messages)
  • Jan. 21 – April 12, 2009 (Sent Messages)
  • Dec. 30, 2012 – Feb. 1, 2013 (Sent Messages)

Screen Shot 2015-09-15

On September 14, the State Department spox was asked about these gaps during the DPB and he maintained that there is no gap. Here is the exchange:

QUESTION: There was a release today by Judicial Watch from its lawsuit, and it cited several email gaps it claims existed in the former secretary’s list of ledger – full ledger of work-related correspondence.

MR KIRBY: Yep, seen the press report, Brad. We’re not aware of any gaps in the Clinton emails set with the exception of the first few months of her tenure when Secretary Clinton used a different email account that she has already advised she no longer has access to. And as I understand it, Secretary Clinton’s representatives have publicly stated that she used a separate email account in those first few months of her tenure. But beyond that, there’s no gap that we have seen or are aware of in Secretary Clinton’s email messages.

QUESTION: In that early part, you mentioned there was a gap of, I think, one month before – from the first received email to the first sent email. Now, I realize it’s fully possible she didn’t send an email that was work-related in that first month – that first month when she had that account, but is that your understanding or is that still an incomplete – you’re still fully researching all of those emails or unearthing them?

MR KIRBY: I know of no research attempt to deal with those first few months, Brad, because, as I said, former Secretary Clinton’s representatives already indicated that they were aware this gap existed and that she had – no longer had access to them. So it’s difficult if not impossible to do any particular research or forensics to get at those first few months. And as for how many were sent and received in that timeframe, I just don’t know. But this is not something that hasn’t been addressed before by her representatives. And beyond that first couple of months, those first four months, we have seen no gaps.

QUESTION: And in the last part of – in the last part of her tenure, there was what they cited was another gap in January 2013, which I’m guessing you’re saying is not a gap, in fact.

MR KIRBY: That’s correct.

QUESTION: Can you – they produced an email which showed an official saying there’s a gap or listing it as a gap. Do you understand what happened? Were those emails then later recovered or found?

MR KIRBY: Right. So we continue to maintain there’s no gap. I think you’re talking about this period of December 2012 through the end of January 2013.

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: And upon further review – so originally when they all came in, a cursory sort of preliminary look, a very quick look at the documents by an official here at the State Department revealed a potential gap of about a month or so in emails. But in going through them in a more fulsome manner after that, we’ve determined that in fact, there was no gap – that that time period is covered quite well by the emails that have been provided.

QUESTION: So you have emails from that period and —

MR KIRBY: We do.

QUESTION: — when you get to that point, they’ll be public.

MR KIRBY: We do, and I think you will continue to see – and we’ve been roughly rolling these out – roughly temporally and you will see – as we get to the remainder of the tranches, that you will see emails that were sent and received during that December ’12 to January ’13 timeframe.

That’s not going to end there.  The “gaps” will be too tantalizing to ignore.

This email released by Judicial Watch also includes a few more names, including Richard C. Visek, the State Department’s Deputy Legal Adviser and also the Designated Agency Ethics Official (DAEO). We suspect that it’s only be a matter of time before the somebodies in Congress would request the official apperance and interview with Margaret P. Grafeld, Eric F. Stein, and heaven knows, who else.

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