In a March 2 report, the Washington Post reported that the Department of Justice granted immunity to Bryan Pagliano, an aide of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who allegedly set up her private email server. In their coverage of the report, nightly news programs on CBS, ABC, and NBC hyped claims that Pagliano's immunity signaled a troubling development for Hillary Clinton -- while neglecting to inform viewers that Pagliano's “limited immunity” is commonly requested and received in these types of investigations, and is “not indicative of guilt.”
DOJ Grants Limited Immunity To Aide Who Set Up Clinton's Server
Wash. Post: Clinton Aide Granted Immunity In Exchange For Cooperating In Investigation Into The Possible Mishandling Of Classified Information. The Washington Post reported on March 2 that the Department of Justice granted immunity to Bryan Pagliano, a Clinton aide who set up her private email server during her time as secretary of state. The article noted, “So far, there is no indication that prosecutors have convened a grand jury in the email investigation to subpoena testimony or documents, which would require the participation of a U.S. attorney's office”:
The Justice Department has granted immunity to a former State Department staffer, who worked on Hillary Clinton's private email server, as part of a criminal investigation into the possible mishandling of classified information, according to a senior law enforcement official.
The official said the FBI had secured the cooperation of Bryan Pagliano, who worked on Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign before setting up the server in her New York home in 2009.
As the FBI looks to wrap up its investigation in the coming months, agents are likely to want to interview Clinton and her senior aides about the decision to use a private server, how it was set up, and whether any of the participants knew they were sending classified information in emails, current and former officials said.
So far, there is no indication that prosecutors have convened a grand jury in the email investigation to subpoena testimony or documents, which would require the participation of a U.S. attorney's office. [The Washington Post, 3/2/16]
ABC, CBS, And NBC Evening News Programs Played Up Pagliano's Immunity Without Noting That Immunity Is Common And Not Indicative Of Guilt
ABC's David Muir: “When You Hear About Immunity ... How Does The Clinton Team Argue This Is Actually A Good Thing?” During the March 3 edition of ABC's World News Tonight with David Muir, host David Muir reported on Bryan Pagliano receiving immunity from the Department of Justice, asking correspondent Jonathan Karl “When you hear about immunity, the Justice Department, emails back in the headlines, how does the Clinton team argue this is actually a good thing”:
DAVID MUIR (HOST): Now, to the Democratic side this evening, and a major development involving Hillary Clinton. Fueled by her Super Tuesday victories, we learned today the Justice Department is giving immunity to the aide who set up Mrs. Clinton's private server, the one she used as secretary of state. Tonight, is this good news or is this bad news for Hillary Clinton? The Clinton team arguing they've wanted that aide to speak from the start. ABC's Jonathan Karl, getting answers tonight.
JONATHAN KARL: Hillary Clinton seems to be riding higher than ever, following her Super Tuesday landslide with a star-studded fund-raiser at Radio City Music Hall.
KARL: But tonight, a double whammy. Dueling headlines on the email controversy that just won't go away. The Washington Post reporting the FBI has granted immunity to the former Clinton aide who set up her private email server. Now he's cooperating with the investigation. And The New York Times reporting the FBI could soon question Hillary Clinton herself. She's already testified about the emails, in that grueling 11-hour session before the congressional committee investigating Benghazi.
KARL: The Clinton campaign says the latest developments are no big deal -- that Mrs. Clinton has been cooperating with the FBI, and that she's pleased her former aide is now cooperating, too.
MUIR: And Jon Karl with us live from Washington tonight, And Jon, when you hear about immunity, the Justice Department, emails back in the headlines, how does the Clinton team argue this is actually a good thing?
KARL: Well, a top Clinton adviser tells me that her legal team sees these latest moves as a sign that the FBI is getting closer to concluding its investigation, an investigation that they are convinced will show that she did nothing illegal. But David, neither the Justice Department nor the FBI would have any comment at all on this today. [ABC, ABC World News with David Muir, 3/3/16]
CBS' Nancy Cordes: Pagliano's Immunity Is “An Indication Of The Breadth Of The Investigation.” During the March 3 edition of CBS' Evening News with Scott Pelley, host Scott Pelley reported Bryan Pagliano “has been given immunity, and is talking to the FBI,” prompting CBS correspondent Nancy Cordes to incorrectly claim Pagliano's immunity is “an indication of the breadth of the investigation into whether anyone intentionally mishandled classified information”:
SCOTT PELLEY: The FBI's investigation into Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton's email may wrap up soon. As secretary of state, Clinton used an unsecured, private email server in her home for official business. None of the emails on the system was marked classified at the time, but recently, thousands have been reevaluated, and some marked top secret. It's a crime to mishandle classified documents. Tonight, Nancy Cordes tells us a former Clinton staffer has been given immunity, and is talking to the FBI.
NANCY CORDES: Bryan Pagliano is an IT specialist who set up the private email server at Clinton's New York home. He took the fifth when he was called before Congress last year, but is cooperating with the FBI -- An indication of the breadth of the investigation into whether anyone intentionally mishandled classified information. The Clinton campaign said today it is pleased that Pagliano is helping with a case the FBI Director James Comey acknowledges is uniquely sensitive.
CORDES: The State Department released the last of Clinton's 30,000 emails on Monday. More than 2,000 of them contained information now considered classified, providing fodder for Republicans.
CORDES: But the question at the heart of this FBI investigation is why a public servant, in a sensitive position, would need to communicate solely via private email. Scott, Clinton's top aides and even the candidate herself could be interviewed by FBI agents in the coming month.
PELLEY: Nancy, thank you. [CBS, CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley, 3/3/16]
NBC's Lester Holt: Pagliano's Immunity Proves Clinton “Has Got Potential Trouble Of Her Own.” During the March 3 edition of NBC's Nightly News with Lester Holt, host Lester Holt stated “You'd think Hillary Clinton might be sitting back today, gleefully watching what's happening on the GOP side, but she has got potential trouble of her own ... Bryan Pagliano had taken the Fifth before Congress, but now is talking to the FBI”:
LESTER HOLT (HOST): Meantime you'd think Hillary Clinton might be sitting back today, gleefully watching what's happening on the GOP side, but she has got potential trouble of her own. Namely, this email controversy that repeatedly surfaces. This time, word that the aide who set up her private email server has been granted immunity. NBC's Andrea Mitchell now with new details.
ANDREA MITCHELL: At the same time as a new disclosure about the investigation into her e-mails. NBC News confirming the former aide who set up her personal server has been granted immunity by the Justice Department. Bryan Pagliano had taken the Fifth before Congress, but now is talking to the FBI, spotlighting an issue Donald Trump raised again today.
MITCHELL: Key legal issues, was classified information mishandled? What was the damage? What was her role?
MICHAEL MUKASEY (FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL): The overriding legal issue is what was done at her direction, and what was done with her knowledge?
MITCHELL: It is very likely that Clinton will have to testify. Her team says they're glad her former aide is now cooperating, but clearly, no matter what the justice department decides, this is an issue that Republicans will continue to use against her. [NBC, NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, 3/3/16]
Granting Immunity During Investigations Is Not Unusual, And Does Not Imply Criminal Wrongdoing
New York Times: Pagliano Received “Limited Immunity” Is Commonly Requested And Received Even In Cases In Which Witnesses Have Nothing To Hide. In a March 3 article, the New York Times' Matt Apuzzo reported Bryan Pagliano has received “limited immunity” from the FBI, noting “It is common for lawyers to request -- and receive -- such deals before allowing their clients to cooperate.” The Times also noted that “Independent lawyers say this is true even in cases in which witnesses have nothing to hide.” The article cited Barbara Van Gelder, a lawyer “who has represented numerous witnesses in high-profile congressional and Justice Department investigations” as stating “Just because someone gets immunity isn't indicative of guilt. It's indicative of protection”:
Mr. Pagliano, who last year invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to testify before Congress, cooperated with the F.B.I. under a limited immunity deal. Limited immunity, which means that prosecutors may not use Mr. Pagliano's words against him, is a far more narrow agreement than what is commonly known as “blanket immunity,” in which the government promises not to prosecute someone for crimes.
Mark MacDougall, Mr. Pagliano's lawyer, said in an email that the limited immunity deal allowed his client to answer specific questions from investigators freely. “That's all there is to it,” Mr. MacDougall said in an email. “Every citizen has that right. The government has the authority to grant immunity in order to obtain answers. In this case, they exercised that authority, we reached an agreement, and Bryan answered the questions.”
It is common for lawyers to request -- and receive -- such deals before allowing their clients to cooperate. Independent lawyers say that is true even in cases in which witnesses have nothing to hide."
Any good lawyer is going to say 'I want immunity before I talk,'" said Barbara Van Gelder, a Washington lawyer with the firm Cozen O'Connor, who has represented numerous witnesses in high-profile congressional and Justice Department investigations. “Just because someone gets immunity isn't indicative of guilt. It's just protection.” [The New York Times, 3/3/16]