“When you have somebody getting a subpoena from the United States Congress to have your emails and all other information sent, and after — not before — after getting the subpoena, 33,000 are deleted and acid-washed. And nobody even knows what that means, acid-washed. It’s a very expensive thing to do. Most people don’t even know what it means. When you see something like that. And there’s no crime. Everything’s just wonderful.”
The charge that Hillary Clinton and her staff deliberately destroyed material that had been requested by congressional committees is at the heart of charges from her critics that the Democratic nominee should face criminal prosecution.
But is there any truth to the charges? Or more precisely, what did the FBI say and do about these allegations? Here’s what we know, mainly from the bureau’s summary of its investigation that the FBI provided to Congress.
In July 2014, the State Department, having gotten requests — but not a subpoena — for documents from congressional committees looking into Clinton’s action surrounding the killings of Americasn in Benghazi, Libya, requested that Clinton, who had stepped down as secretary of state 17 months earlier, turn over all work-related emails that she had kept on her private server.
That task was handled by Cheryl Mills, who was Clinton’s chief of staff at State, and Heather Samuelson, Clinton’s personal lawyer. The two women had all copies of the 62,320 emails transferred from the server to their laptop computers where Mills and Samuelson — mainly Samuelson — reviewed them to determine which were work-related and which were personal. The task took months.
After completing it in December 2014, Clinton’s lawyers printed out 30,490 emails they deemed to be work-related and turned them over to the State Department. The other printed copies of the remaining 31,830 emails that the lawyers felt were personal were destroyed. Paul Combetta, of Platte River Networks, the Denver-based company that maintained the private server, was instructed by the lawyers to erase the copies that had been sent to their laptops. He did so using a program called BleachBit, not “acid wash.”
There were still emails on Clinton’s server that she considered personal. However, at this point, Clinton decided she no longer wanted to keep any personal emails on her server that were older than 60 days. Combetta was instructed to delete those as well. He failed to do so, later claiming he forgot.
At this point, no subpoena for her emails had been issued by any congressional committees.
On March 2, 2015, The New York Times published an article headlined, “Hillary Clinton Used Personal Email Account at State Dept.” Two days later, the House Select Committee on Benghazi issued a subpoena seeking any emails that might be related to the attack on the American compound there.
On March 9, Mills sent an email to Combetta informing him of the request to retain the email records. Combetta later told the FBI that several weeks later, he realized that he had forgotten to delete the older emails as Mills had instructed him to do in December. Combetta destroyed what he believed to be the remaining old emails sometime between March 21 and the 31.
Combetta, who could have been charged with obstructing an FBI investigation, initially asserted his 5th Amendment rights against self-incrimination. He was later given immunity for his testimony. Both Clinton and Mills told the FBI that they had not instructed him to delete the emails from the server after the subpoena had been issued.
It is not clear from the FBI summary that Combetta contradicted that assertion when he was interviewed. What it is clear is that FBI Director James Comey said that the investigation did not find any evidence of obstruction of justice by either Clinton, Mills, Samuelson or any other Clinton aide.
So were all of the nearly 32,000 emails (not 33,000 as Trump keeps asserting, but who’s counting?) that were supposedly deleted gone forever? Well, the FBI was able to find more than 17,000 of them and determined that a “substantial number” are duplicates of emails that had already been turned over to the State Department.
The State Department has reviewed about 15,000 of the emails and determined that more than 9,400 were purely personal and will not be released and that another 5,600 are probably work-related and will be made public in the weeks before the election.
As a result, we find Trump’s claim that Clinton and/or her staffers deliberately destroyed emails after they were subpoenaed to be false.