WASHINGTON ― Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted to hold Hillary Clinton’s former tech expert in contempt of Congress on Thursday after sending armed federal marshals to serve him a subpoena last week.
The tech aide, Bryan Pagliano, had worked with Clinton on her home email setup and at the State Department, but had already refused to testify to the Benghazi Committee last year, when he asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Since then, the FBI and the Justice Department have decided that Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state did not merit prosecution. It was also revealed over the summer that Pagliano eventually did cooperate with the FBI after he was granted limited immunity from prosecution.
But when the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee subpoenaed Pagliano last week, his lawyers said he would again assert his Fifth Amendment rights. They added that he was willing to meet with the committee in private to make that assertion, but was unwilling to do so under the glare of television cameras in a public event.
That prompted Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) to dispatch the armed marshals with a fresh subpoena last Friday, Chaffetz revealed in Thursday’s hearing.
“To clear up any ambiguity created by Mr. Pagliano’s six lawyers about whether they would confirm service of the prior subpoenas – which they refused to do – we had the U.S. marshals personally serve him,” Chaffetz said.
Democrats were clearly frustrated with the exercise.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said the actions went well beyond frivolous, political grandstanding.
“The committee could have sent a staffer in a coat and tie, but they sent federal marshals with guns,” Cummings said. “This served no purpose but to harass and intimidate Mr. Pagliano. The chairman ordered this action in secret, without even notifying Democratic committee members of his plan. No consultation, no debate, no vote.”
He added that hauling Pagliano in front of the committee just to see him remain silent served only to embarrass him, which, Cummings said, violates typical ethical standards of bar associations.
The committee could have sent a staffer in a coat and tie, but they sent federal marshals with guns. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.)
Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas), however, said he was not concerned about ethical complaints from bar associations because members of Congress are exempt from such punishment in a situation like this.
“I’m not concerned about voting for this,” Farenthold said. “I’m a licensed attorney and I’m confident that any legislative action I take will be protected under the speech and debate clause of the United States Constitution that says I shall not be questioned in any other forum for any activity I take as a legislator.”
As Democrats have been doing lately with actions that they deem to be politically motivated, Cummings turned the focus to GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.
“I suppose Republicans could argue that since Hillary Clinton is running for president, the American people should know everything they can before entering the voting booth,” Cummings said. “If so, then where is our investigation of Donald Trump? His potentially fraudulent business practices? His campaign’s potential connections to Russian hackers? His charitable foundation’s illegal campaign donations, pay-for-play schemes, and payments to settle corporate debts?”
The committee’s resolution to hold Pagliano in contempt of Congress was referred to the full House, which will have to vote on it before sending it to the Department of Justice for any sort of prosecution.