WASHINGTON — The Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, who has refused Democratic requests to investigate possible conflicts of interest involving President Donald Trump, is seeking criminal charges against a former State Department employee who helped set up Hillary Clinton’s private email server.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday asking him to convene a grand jury or charge Bryan Pagliano, the computer specialist who helped establish Clinton’s server while she was secretary of state.
Pagliano did not comply with two subpoenas ordering him to appear before the oversight panel. The GOP-led committee later voted to hold him in contempt of Congress.
Earlier this month, Chaffetz met with Trump at the White House and agreed not to discuss oversight. He has rebuffed calls for his panel to look into Trump’s businesses and possible conflicts.
Chaffetz said in a statement that allowing Pagliano’s conduct “to go unaddressed would gravely harm Congress’ ability to conduct oversight.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said pursuing charges against Pagliano would be a waste of time and money.
“Apparently, Chairman Chaffetz and President Trump are the only two people in Washington today who think we should still be investigating Secretary Clinton,” Cumming said in a statement. He added: “The Oversight Committee can’t afford to be distracted by political vendettas against Hillary Clinton while our constituents are begging us to conduct responsible oversight of President Trump.”
Pagliano refused to answer questions in 2015 from a House panel investigating the deadly 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya. He later spoke to the FBI under immunity, telling the bureau there were no successful security breaches of the home-brew server, located at Clinton’s home in suburban New York City.
Pagliano said he was aware of many failed login attempts that he described as “brute force attacks.”
The email issue shadowed Clinton’s candidacy for president, and Republicans were steadfast in focusing on her use of a private server for government business, with several high-profile hearings leading up to the election. Chaffetz and other Republicans cast Clinton as reckless with U.S. national security by insisting on using private communications systems at potentially greater risk of being penetrated by Chinese and Russian hackers.
But Democrats insist the sole purpose of the Benghazi hearings — and a separate inquiry by Chaffetz — was to undermine Clinton’s presidential bid. She lost to Trump despite winning the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes.
FBI Director James Comey announced last July that the FBI was not recommending charges against Clinton in the email case, although he characterized her actions as “extremely careless,” a remark that Democrats condemned as unnecessary editorializing.
Then, just 11 days before the Nov. 8 election, Comey advised Congress that new emails potentially connected to the case had been discovered and would need to be reviewed. A follow-up letter nine days later said the email review had done nothing to change the FBI’s original conclusion. Many Democrats and Clinton herself have suggested that Comey’s actions so close to the election likely affected the outcome.