House Republicans are selectively pushing new information that long-time Clinton aide Cheryl Mills was granted a limited form of immunity in the now-closed FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state. Right-wing media have seized on these efforts to falsely claim the immunity was broad and stands as proof of criminal wrongdoing, while ignoring the reasons for why the limited immunity was recommended by both the FBI and Mills’ attorney.
Long-Time Clinton Aide Cheryl Mills Was Granted Limited Immunity In Now-Closed Email Investigation
FBI Documents Show Aide Cheryl Mills Was Granted Limited Immunity In Exchange For A Laptop Search During Now-Closed Clinton Email Investigation. On September 23, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) told The Associated Press (AP) he was “absolutely stunned” that long-time Hillary Clinton aide Cheryl Mills had been granted an immunity deal in the course of the now-closed FBI investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state. Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which Chaffetz chairs, pointed out that the deal was extremely limited and “did not cover statements made to investigators or to potential testimony before Congress”:
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 Clinton's use of a private email server as secretary of state, says a Republican congressman.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told The Associated Press on Friday that 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 Friday the immunity agreements were limited in scope and did not cover statements made to investigators or to potential testimony before Congress. [The Associated Press, 9/23/16]
AP: “House Republicans Are Seeking To Keep The Issue Of Clinton’s Emails Alive” With New Immunity Deal Details, Even Though Investigation Was Closed Months Ago. Although the FBI investigation ended in July when the agency recommended no charges be brought, the AP reported that congressional Republicans are “disappointed the FBI didn't recommend criminal charges” and are looking for ways to “keep the issue of Clinton’s email use alive” for political purposes:
Friday evening, the FBI released 189 additional pages of documents from its investigation, including notes of agents' interviews with Mills, Samuelson, Bentel, close Clinton aide Huma Abedin and foreign policy adviser Jake Sullivan.
Disappointed the FBI didn't recommend criminal charges, congressional Republicans are seeking to keep the issue of Clinton's email use alive through the November election. Clinton has called her use of the private server a mistake. [The Associated Press, 9/23/16]
Right-Wing Media Follow Republicans’ Lead, Misrepresent Immunity Deal To Attack Clinton And Mills
Fox News Panel Agrees Immunity Deal “Raises A Whole Host Of Questions,” Calls Mills A “Sort Of Co-Conspirator.” After playing Rep. Chaffetz’s accusatory remarks in full, a panel on Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier distorted the facts of Mills’ limited immunity to imply wrongdoing even after the now-closed investigation concluded with no charges. Fox regular Charles Krauthammer claimed during the discussion that the FBI’s treatment of Mills, who he called a “sort of co-conspirator,” was “truly scandalous.” Guest David Catanese added, “I think the real problem, for people watching at home, is that why would you have to give immunity to people if there is nothing to hide here?” Panelist Lisa Boothe claimed the news of the limited immunity deal “raises a whole host of questions” and ought to lead to “increased scrutiny about Cheryl Mills.” [Fox News, Special Report with Bret Baier, 9/23/16]
Breitbart News Baselessly Speculates Over “Cheryl Mills Immunity Bombshell.” In response to the news, Breitbart suggested that the so-called “bombshell evidence” shows the reason Mills was granted immunity was because she never filled out requisite paperwork for the handling of classified information and “may never have qualified for a security clearance.” [Breitbart News, 9/23/16]
RedState: “WHOA: Clinton Aide Cheryl Mills Granted Immunity By FBI.” Conservative blog RedState opened its article on the limited immunity deals asking, “Shades of things to come?” The short write-up included commentary from Rep. Chaffetz, but failed to provide context about the limited scope of the deal. [RedState, 9/23/16]
National Review: “Why Did The Obama Justice Department Grant Cheryl Mills Immunity?” National Review contributing editor Andrew McCarthy argued the limited immunity deal was “very strange,” and questioned the veracity of public statements from Mills’ attorney about the limited scope of the deal or the reasoning behind the decision, because she supposedly “refused to show the immunity agreement.” McCarthy speculated that “the Justice Department had already decided it would not prosecute Mills... no matter what the proof showed,” and that “it appears the Obama Justice Department’s goal was not to make a prosecutable case, but to make it appear that Hillary Clinton was ‘exonerated’ after a thorough FBI investigation.” [National Review, 9/24/16]
Wall Street Journal Columnist: If There Were No Criminal Charges, “What Did Cheryl Mills Need Immunity For?” Wall Street Journal columnist and editorial board member William McGurn cited the movie “The Godfather” to suggest immunity deals must indicate guilt, asking, “Why did Cheryl Mills require criminal immunity?” [The Wall Street Journal, 9/26/16]
Mills’ Immunity Was “Very Limited,” And Was Meant To Address Ongoing Confusion Among Agencies About Retroactive Classification
Politico: “Partial Immunity” Granted To Mills And Other Aides Was Reportedly “Very Limited” And Requested By Their Lawyers To Address “Inter-Agency Disputes” During Investigation. As Politico reported, the immunity granted to Mills and another aide was “narrow, covering only their handover of laptops used in 2014,” and importantly did not apply to Mills’ voluntary FBI and Department of Justice interviews in the course of the investigation. Mills’ lawyer explained that “she requested the immunity grants because of inter-agency disputes” about what information on the laptops was retroactively deemed classified, adding “the Justice Department assured us that they believed my clients did nothing wrong” (emphasis added):
The immunity grants to Mills and Samuelson were narrow, covering only their handover of laptops used in 2014, after Clinton left State, to conduct a review of the former secretary's emails to separate work-related messages from those purely personal in nature. The immunity came after the women were interviewed by the FBI and did not cover any of their statements. People familiar with the immunity offer said it was not related to the lawyers' testimony, noting that FBI Director James Comey said in July there was no evidence of a deletion aimed at frustrating the investigation.
A lawyer for Mills and Samuelson, Beth Wilkinson, said she requested the immunity grants because of inter-agency disputes about whether some information in Clinton's emails was classified.
“As the government indicated in these letters, the DOJ and FBI considered my clients to be witnesses and nothing more. Indeed, the Justice Department assured us that they believed my clients did nothing wrong. At all points my clients cooperated with the government’s investigation, including voluntarily participating in interviews with the FBI and DOJ,” Wilkinson said in a statement. [Politico, 9/23/16]
CNN: Narrow Immunity Deal Was Limited To Laptop Search, Meant To Mitigate “Confusion” Between Agencies On Retroactive Classification. CNN noted that Mills’ immunity deal was limited to one 2014 laptop search, and cited Mills’ attorney explaining that it was meant to address “confusion surrounding the various agencies’ positions on the after-the-fact classification decisions” (emphasis added):
A spokeswoman for [Rep.] Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, confirmed that Mills was being given immunity. But a Democratic congressional source said the extent of the deal was limited to a search of her and another aide's laptop.
According to the source, the FBI requested the laptops of Clinton's attorneys, Mills and Heather Samuelson, after they conducted a 2014 review of what emails Clinton sent were work-related and which were personal. Work-related emails were turned over to the State Department and personal emails were deleted.
In exchange for giving the laptops they used to the FBI, Mills and Samuelson were given a limited immunity agreement from the Department of Justice, the Democratic source said, that they would not face prosecution for any information that was found on those laptops.
[According to Mills’ attorney Beth Wilkinson,] “The letters released to the Hill today only covered the computers that my clients had used in performing their legal work. Because of the confusion surrounding the various agencies' positions on the after-the-fact classification decisions, I advised my clients to accept this letter from DOJ.” [CNN.com, 9/23/16]
FBI Director Comey: Limited Immunity Deal Reflected “FBI’s Collective Judgment,” Meant To Expedite Investigation. FBI Director James Comey explained to Congress that the limited immunity deal extended to Mills was part of the FBI’s calculation to avoid potentially tangled legal disputes that could have held up the investigation “for months,” and reiterated that the deal was limited to a laptop search:
The immunity deal for Cheryl Mills was limited to information contained on her laptop, Comey told a Senate committee, adding that the FBI’s collective judgment was that “we need to get to that laptop.”
Comey told Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., that Mills was acting as a member of Clinton’s legal team in the case. He said the FBI decided it would take too long to try to force Mills to turn over the laptop without an immunity deal.
Trying to obtain the laptop though a grand jury or other method “would likely tangle us up” in arguments over legal privilege “for a very long time,” Comey said. [The Associated Press, 9/27/16]