The former State Department IT staffer who helped set up and maintain the Clintons’ private server appeared before the House Committee on Benghazi today and, as expected, asserted his 5th Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
Bryan Pagliano reportedly refused to answer any of “roughly 19 pages of questions” the committee had planned to ask, and left the closed-door session after about twenty minutes.
Both the chairman of the panel, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.-4th District) and ranking Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.-7th District) spoke afterward.
“He has a right to not answer questions that he thinks may incriminate him,” Gowdy told reporters, “and you have a right to glean whatever inference you want from the fact that he has not answered based on the fact it may incriminate him.”
Gowdy repeated his reluctance against offering immunity in exchange for Pagliano’s cooperation, saying, “in my judgment, it has the potential to impact ongoing executive branch investigations.”
Gowdy urged reporters to ask “why the person who set up a server, if that is all that he did, exposes himself to criminal liability because of the mere act of setting up a server?”
Cummings said Pagliano last week indicated he would not answer questions put to him by the Benghazi panel, and that nothing had changed by Thursday, when “he was dragged in here today, and the reason being, again, politics.”
“I don’t think he has any information about Benghazi,” Cummings said, “this is the IT guy.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the committee, yesterday accused Gowdy of political malfeasance, taking a nasty swipe at Congressman Darrell Issa in the process:
“This is the identical approach taken by Chairman (Darrell) Issa when he served as chairman of the Oversight Committee — forcing witnesses to appear in person to assert their Fifth Amendment rights just for a photo op,” Cummings said in a statement. “Mr. Pagliano’s testimony has nothing to do with the Benghazi attacks and everything to do with Republicans’ insatiable desire to derail Secretary Clinton’s presidential bid.”
Gowdy hit back at Cummings on Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom” with Martha MacCallum, this morning:
“It’s hard for every single sentence in a statement to be inaccurate,” Gowdy scoffed. “But Mr. Cummings managed to pull it off.”
The South Carolina Republican said that not only is his committee “doing it very differently from the way Chairman Issa did it,” they are “doing it very differently from the way Democrats did it when they ran the asylum.”
Chairman Gowdy highlighted a letter that was sent by Benghazi Committee Member Rep. Linda Sanchez on April 3, 2007, in which she demanded an aide to a cabinet member who planned to plead the Fifth appear in person and in public before a Judiciary subcommittee to exercise that right.
Unlike Rep. Sanchez, Chairman Gowdy did not force Mr. Pagliano appear in public to assert his right against self-incrimination.
Gowdy explained to MacCallum why questioning Pagliano was vital.
“We have a lot of questions, all of them related to Benghazi and Libya,” said Gowdy. “It is not about classified information, it is not about his employment arrangement with the former secretary. It is about making sure the public record is complete.”
The Benghazi investigation led to the revelation that Clinton had been using a private server while she was secretary of state. “The previous seven congressional inquiries somehow missed this pretty glaring fact,” Gowdy noted dryly.
“I do have an obligation to access every witness and every document that is relevant to Benghazi and Libya and unfortunately for him he is part of that process,” he continued. “We would love to know why, and what was he told. That gives us insight into the mind of the person who wanted the private server.”