Hillary Clinton’s former chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, and two other staff members were granted immunity deals in exchange for their cooperation in the now-closed FBI investigation into Mrs Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state, says a Republican congressman.
Representative Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the house oversight and government reform committee, told The Associated Press on Friday that Ms Mills gave federal investigators access to her laptop on the condition that what they found couldn’t be used against her.
Democrats on the committee said on Friday that the immunity agreements were limited in scope and did not cover statements made to investigators or to potential testimony before Congress.
Still, Mr Chaffetz said he was “absolutely stunned” that the FBI would cut a deal with someone as close to the investigation as Ms Mills. By including the emails recovered from the laptops in the immunity agreements, the Justice Department exempted key physical evidence from any potential criminal case against the aides.
“No wonder they couldn’t prosecute a case,” said Mr Chaffetz, a Republican congressman from Utah. “They were handing out immunity deals like candy.”
Copies of the immunity agreements were provided to the House oversight committee by the Justice Department this week under seal.
Mrs Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon accused House Republicans of “trying to make something out of nothing by rummaging through the files of a Justice Department investigation that was closed months ago without any charges whatsoever, and leaking selective details three days before the first presidential debate.”
“Congressman Chaffetz continues to abuse his office by wasting taxpayer dollars to try to second-guess the FBI in what amounts to a desperate attempt to boost Donald Trump’s chances against Hillary Clinton,” Mr Fallon said.
FBI Director says Hillary Clinton will not be charged for email scandal Play!
A yearlong investigation by the FBI focused on whether the Democratic presidential nominee sent or received classified information using the private server located in the basement of her New York home, which was not authorised for such messages.
FBI Director James Comey said in July that his agents hadn’t found evidence to support any criminal charge or direct evidence that Mrs Clinton’s private server had been hacked. He suggested that hackers working for a foreign government may have been so sophisticated they wouldn’t have left behind any evidence of a break-in.
Mr Chaffetz said in addition to Ms Mills, others granted immunity include John Bentel, then-director of the State Department’s office of information resources management, and Heather Samuelson, a senior adviser to Mrs Clinton.
Beth Wilkinson, the lawyer representing Ms Mills and Ms Samuelson, said the text of the immunity agreements show investigators considered her clients “to be witnesses and nothing more.” Her office declined to provide copies of the agreements to AP.
“The Justice Department assured us that they believed my clients did nothing wrong,” Ms Wilkinson said. “At all points my clients cooperated with the government’s investigation, including voluntarily participating in interviews with the FBI and DOJ.”
The latest revelation brings the total number of people who were granted immunity as part of the FBI’s investigation to at least five.
It had previously been reported immunity had been granted to Bryan Pagliano, a tech expert who set up Mrs Clinton’s email server, as well as Paul Combetta, a computer specialist for a private firm that later maintained the Democratic candidate’s email setup.
Mr Chaffetz said that he is looking forward to asking the FBI director questions about the immunity deals when he testifies on Wednesday before the House Judiciary Committee. Mr Chaffetz is also a member of that panel.
Ms Mills, who was among the former secretary of state’s closest confidants, voluntarily appeared last year for a lengthy interview as part of the House GOP’s investigation into the 2012 attack on a US diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that left three Americans dead.
Mr Pagliano and Mr Combetta, however, have refused to testify before Congress by invoking their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. On Thursday, the GOP-led House oversight committee voted along party lines to hold Mr Pagliano in contempt of Congress for failing to comply with its subpoena.