House GOP split over Clinton email probe – Politico
House Republicans are divided over whether they should open a separate probe of Hillary Clinton’s controversial email setup, with some conservative firebrands calling for an expanded inquiry while other GOP lawmakers would rather the Justice Department take the lead.
The internal debate — which has been simmering for months — follows the resignation of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). Boehner had barred GOP committee chairmen, including House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), from investigating Clinton’s email setup for fear of muddying the waters around the ongoing Benghazi Committee probe.
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But with Benghazi Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) vowing that he won’t expand his probe to include Clinton’s server — and with Boehner out the door — some Republicans say the time has come to take direct aim at the former secretary of state’s server setup.
“I just think it needs to happen. … We already know [Clinton] messed up,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a member of the Benghazi and Oversight committees who remains skeptical of Clinton because a handful of her emails have surfaced from other sources, even though Republicans asked for all her Libya-related correspondence from the State Department. “It seems to me we have to do everything we can to ensure we know if [she turned over everything]. … Whether that should be on the Benghazi Committee or the Oversight Committee or the Foreign Affairs Committee — that’s up to them.”
The office of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said it did not have any updates on the matter at this point. But other Republicans say it would be best to leave the issue to the Justice Department, which has the 2016 Democratic contender’s server and is investigating whether classified information was ever mishandled. Still, the FBI has not called its probe a formal investigation, while suggesting it is interested in broader questions about how classified materials were handled — and not necessarily launching a criminal inquiry.
“I think it’s best served by law enforcement,” said Rep. Peter Roskam of Illinois, another Republican on the Benghazi panel. “I would not recommend a separate investigation of any kind.”
Rep. Mark Meadows, an Oversight subcommittee chairman from North Carolina, said that’s the impression he’s gotten about where things are headed in the House: “I think the general opinion is that we defer to the FBI because they have an investigation.”
The divide represents the delicate balance Republicans are trying to strike. Some Republicans hope to hold Clinton’s feet to the fire on an issue they say shows poor judgment — but they’re wary of being labeled as partisan hacks who are just trying to derail her campaign. Democrats have spent weeks battering Republicans on the Benghazi panel, which they deride as a partisan exercise aimed at hurting Clinton in the polls. But, at the same time, conservatives on the right are grilling the GOP for not pressing hard enough.
“It’s like we haven’t closed the loop. … We’re not going to be any harder on Hillary Clinton because she’s running for president — but we’re not going to be easier either,” Chaffetz told POLITICO when asked about his efforts to start a separate investigation in August.
On Tuesday, Chaffetz did not comment specifically on the calls for a new probe into Clinton’s email setup. A source familiar with his thinking said he’s still interested in probing the matter, but the decision on whether to do so is still up in the air as members interested in taking up the probe seek leadership’s permission and gauge what their colleagues think.
Meanwhile, many House Republicans are cool to the idea. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who sits on the House Intelligence and Foreign Affairs panels, for example, pooh-poohed any effort to launch a separate probe: “People are kinda a little sour on all these special investigations.”
And even former Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa, who was one of the most aggressive wielders of the Oversight gavel in recent history, was reserved when asked about the possibility of a new probe. The California Republican said the public already knows about Clinton’s activities and highlighting them now, before an election, wouldn’t do much good. Issa said it’s “a good question for the new speaker.”
“Should Clinton be accountable for her wrongdoing? Yes, but that’s mostly up to the Justice Department now,” Issa added. “If we do more, what have we really accomplished? … If we go after it, it looks exactly like what it would be: further trying to pull out things that are right now in the political arena.”
Two Senate chairmen, Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) on Homeland Security and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on Judiciary, are continuing their own probe of the Clinton server’s security issue, although they’re working behind closed doors for now. They’ve reached out to the tech companies Clinton employed to learn more about how Clinton’s server was protected — and who approved it, knew about it or possibly tried to object to it.
Some in the House have found a separate but related angle they’re interested in pursuing: Earlier this year, the Benghazi panel turned up about 15 Libya-related emails between Clinton and her ally Sidney Blumenthal that she had never turned over but which the committee discovered though a subpoena. The panel had asked Clinton to hand over all her Libya messages, so the emergence of these previously unknown emails, which Republicans considered Libya-related, piqued their interest.
And while Clinton’s campaign told the media she didn’t start using her private email setup until March 2009 — seeking to explain why there was an email gap in her record from the first few months she was in office — an inspector general this fall discovered a January 2009 exchange from her private account that she had with former commander of U.S. Central Command David Petraeus.
“Those stories keep changing,” Jordan said. “With that as the context, I think it makes sense to ask” questions about these things.
Benghazi Republicans at the tail end of their marathon hearing in late October tried to grill Clinton on the matter. But she deflected specific questions — including how her legal team sorted private correspondence that needed to be turned over from personal email — referring back to her lawyers.
Her team has noted that federal records experts determined more than 1,200 messages she turned in were personal and returned — proof, they say, that she went above and beyond.
But some federal records experts say that doesn’t necessarily mean she was overly inclusive — just that it raises questions about whether the person who went through her emails knew what was required to be turned over under law and what wasn’t.
Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) said there are also several unanswered questions surrounding exactly when State realized Clinton had a private email server and when Clinton’s lawyers knew that they’d eventually have to turn over these messages.
Clinton said in her hearing that she found out in October 2014, but Republicans say they’ve seen evidence suggesting that her lawyers knew much earlier that there was an issue.
Those, Westmoreland said, are good questions for another panel: “There’s nothing else we can really do about her using a personal server from the Benghazi committee. … Our mission is to find out what led to us being in Benghazi, why there was not better protection there … but not to go in and do the kind of research that would need to be done about why” she used a server.
“It would be up to someone else … to take that up,” he said. “To me that would be another committee, Oversight or … Foreign Affairs.”