House Committee Seeks Contempt Citation Against Clinton Aide

(Bloomberg) -- A House committee voted along party lines to recommend that Bryan Pagliano, who helped maintain the private e-mail server that Hillary Clinton used while secretary of state, be found in contempt of Congress.

The 19-15 vote Thursday by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform sent to the the full House of Representatives a resolution saying that Pagliano has twice defied a subpoena and asking that Speaker Paul Ryan “take all appropriate action to enforce" it.

"Subpoenas are not optional," Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz of Utah said. "Mr. Pagliano is a crucial fact witness in this committee’s investigation.”

Pagliano, who was an aide on Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, failed to appear before the committee Thursday, having previously spurned a Sept. 13 hearing. Democrats on the panel said a contempt citation would serve no purpose because Pagliano already had asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination before a different congressional committee in 2015 and his lawyer has indicated he’d do so again.

Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the committee’s top Democrat, condemned Republicans for sending armed U.S. marshals to serve a second subpoena on Pagliano on a matter that he said was more about the presidential election in which Clinton is the Democratic nominee.

‘Definition of Abuse’

"These actions are the definition of abuse," Cummings said before the vote. "They are harassment."

While Pagliano was granted immunity by the Justice Department as part of its inquiry into potential national security risks created by Clinton’s use of her private e-mail system, his lawyer has cited the potential he could be prosecuted on other grounds.

The lawyer, Mark MacDougall, said in a letter on Monday that his client would appear before a closed session to invoke his constitutional rights but asking him to do so "in front of video cameras six weeks before the presidential election, betrays a naked political agenda and furthers no valid legislative aim."

Contempt of Congress is a "a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000 nor less than $100 and imprisonment in a common jail for not less than one month nor more than twelve months," according to the U.S. code.

If the full House votes to find someone in contempt, it can refer the matter to the Justice Department for prosecution at the department’s discretion, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. The House also can vote to authorize someone to sue for compliance with the subpoena, although committee votes recommending contempt charges have sometimes sufficed to get witnesses to cooperate.

From 1980 to mid-2014, the full House voted to recommend charges eight times, according to CRS.

The cases included those against Joshua Bolten, who was chief of staff to President George W. Bush, and Eric Holder, who was attorney general under President Barack Obama. Neither was charged, largely due to their positions in the executive branch.

The committee has previously called two employees of Platte River Networks, a Denver-based technology company that Bill and Hillary Clinton hired to maintain a successor server after she left the State Department. Both invoked their rights under the Fifth Amendment and were excused.

On Sept 12, the committee also subpoenaed the FBI for unredacted files from its server investigation. The agency had already released redacted summaries of Clinton’s interview and the case overall.

Clinton’s use of the private e-mail server while secretary of state from 2009 to 2013 has cast a shadow over her campaign for more than a year. The FBI recommended against prosecution, but Director James Comey criticized Clinton and her aides for “extremely careless” handling of sensitive data.