Private tech companies involved with Clinton email server stonewalling Congress
Several tech companies who had a hand in maintaining or storing Hillary Clinton's private email server are refusing to cooperate with congressional committees investigating the matter.
The firms are supplying the FBI with documents and other information but have cited client confidentiality laws that they say prevent them from giving several committees access to information on the server.
The Homeland Security Committee is especially interested in the information that could be supplied by tech companies because the committee is investigating whether the server was breached by hackers and sensitive information exposed.
The Homeland Committee would not comment for this story, but other Republicans said there seems to be a pattern of companies involved with the Clintons avoiding congressional inquiries.
“What do they have to hide?” asked Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who's running his own investigation into what Republicans say is a potential conflict of interest for top Clinton aide Huma Abedin, who was working for Clinton at State while also drawing a salary from Teneo, a private consulting firm. “I’m a little surprised because usually you get more cooperation from the private sector than you do from the public sector — at least on a lot of my investigations.”
Reuters reported last week that Teneo — which has close ties to Clinton — refused to answer questions and provide documents for Grassley's investigation of Abedin's work status. She's now vice chairwoman for the Clinton campaign. Abedin's lawyers have consistently denied that Abedin did anything wrong, noting that State explicitly approved her dual-work status.
Other companies have also refused recent Homeland Committee inquiries. InfoGrate CEO Tania Neild, the New York-based technology broker for millionaires who put the Clintons in touch with Platte River in 2013, invoked a nondisclosure agreement she had with her client when she declined interviews with the panel.
"I said, ‘Look, I have an NDA.'… and they left me alone," she said when reached by phone. Neild, however, gave over documents to the FBI.
The next step for the committees is to issue subpoenas, compelling company officials to cooperate.
Dennis Nowak, a lawyer for a fourth tech company involved in the server issue, Florida-based SECNAwouldn't say if they were answering the committee's questions. But he explained that electronic communications technology companies like theirs are governed by a law that imposes criminal and civil penalties for disclosing customer information.
Those rules, he said, can be waived only via subpoena, search warrant, court order — or consent of the client.
In an Aug. 11 letter, the Homeland Committee asked for a Platte River staff-level briefing on the server. Investigators in mid-September followed up on that request in various email exchanges with Ken Eichner, outside counsel for Platte River, asking to interview five employees and offering to travel to Denver to do so, according to messages reviewed by POLITICO.
Eichner on Sept. 17 wrote the committee back: “I am going to respectfully decline any interviews.”
In a way, the tech companies look forward to the subpoenas because, as one expert pointed out, “[i]f they don’t, they risk that future customers won’t think that the company cares the slightest about privacy interests.”
We'll see if the companies fight the subpoenas in court. Meanwhile, time is running out. The FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of the private server is now apparently concentrating on possible criminal charges. It would be unprecedented for a leading presidential candidate to be charged with a crime, which leads us to think it won't happen. Or, of it does, the offense will be a misdemeanor that will be immediately pleaded out.
More likely, Clinton aides Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills will take the fall for their boss, leaving Hillary relatively unscathed.