E-mails from former Hillary Clinton staffer still missing. Big deal?

The State Department hasn't come up with much of an e-mail trail on the man who helped Secretary Clinton set up a private e-mail server. For Republicans, it's a talking point as they try to raise questions about Clinton’s truthfulness.

Cliff Owen/AP/File
This September 2015 photo shows Bryan Pagliano (center), a former State Department employee who helped set up and maintain a private e-mail server used by Hillary Clinton, departing from Capitol Hill in Washington.

In November 2012 a State Department information technology official named Bryan Pagliano sent his boss Hillary Rodham Clinton a cheery greeting. “Happy Birthday Madam Secretary!” it read. “To many more!”

Secretary Clinton did not reply directly, according to e-mail records released so far. Instead, she forwarded the missive to an aide. “Pls respond,” she said.

And that’s it, according to the Republican National Committee. The State Department has been unable to locate any other e-mails sent or received by Mr. Pagliano during his time at the agency, says the RNC in a court filing made public on Monday.

Why is that important? Because Pagliano was a key figure who helped set up Clinton’s private e-mail server, a workaround which has infuriated her critics and sent Republicans on a long hunt for any evidence that Clinton mishandled government secrets.

His communications might shed light on how and why Clinton established the private server in the first place.

The RNC petitioned the State Department for Pagliano’s records under the Freedom of Information Act. Ultimately the GOP filed a lawsuit to force action on this and similar requests.

“And, surprise, surprise, the [Pagliano] records from the period Clinton served as Secretary of State are mysteriously missing,” said the RNC in a Monday press release.

This isn’t completely new news – the State Department acknowledged last December that it was having trouble finding Pagliano e-mails, and Politico reported it then. Officials say they are still looking and have located messages Pagliano sent after Clinton left the State Department in February 2013.

In March, the Justice Department offered Pagliano immunity in exchange for his testimony, and he accepted. Since then the FBI has interviewed him as it winds up its investigation of Clinton’s e-mail arrangements.

If nothing else, the State Department’s continued struggles to provide Pagliano records give the GOP another talking point as it tries to use the e-mail issue to call Clinton’s truthfulness into question.

The FBI’s investigation of the matter appears to be nearing its end. Agents have talked to many of Clinton’s closest aides. They have yet to interview Clinton herself, but plan to do so in the near future.

Will Clinton be indicted? That does not seem likely, according to news reports. CNN’s Pamela Brown reported last week that the agency hasn’t found any evidence that Clinton “willfully broke the law” in her handling of classified information.

Clinton has said the use of the server was a mistake. But it was far from criminal, in her view, because none of the e-mails she sent or received on the server were marked “classified” at the time of communication. The intelligence community decided they should be classified during a review of her communications after the server issue went public.

By way of contrast, former CIA director David Petraeus, for instance, provided his then-mistress with notebooks he knew contained quantities of sensitive classified material.  In April 2015 he pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified material and received two years probation and a $100,000 fine.

If Clinton isn’t indicted, she’ll use that as an all-purpose dismissal of the subject. Nothing to see here – move along. But the GOP will undoubtedly do all it can to keep suspicion alive no matter what. Expect more legal action on the part of the RNC on this issue in the months ahead.

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