[size=32]FBI Preparing to Interview Clinton Aides[/size]
WASHINGTON — FBI agents are planning to seek interviews with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s aides in coming weeks as an investigation into her use of private email for official business enters a new phase, according to two people familiar with the inquiry.
Investigators would also like to interview the Democratic presidential front-runner herself as part of the inquiry, the people said. The FBI is striving to complete its probe by May or June and pass its findings along to prosecutors for potential action, the people said.
The interviews of aides who served Clinton while she was at the State Department would examine how the server was set up and used, and what precautions — if any — were taken to protect sensitive data, according to the people, who described the matter on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing.
Investigators are almost finished examining computers and other physical evidence as part of the inquiry, which is focused on whether Clinton’s use of private email while serving as the nation’s top diplomat led to the improper handling of classified information, according to the people.
Clinton’s bid for the Democratic presidential nomination has been buffeted by questions prompted by last year’s revelation of the private email system. Republican contenders have pounded on her for months over the issue, arguing that the handling of official communications on a nongovernment system by her and her aides broke the law and put national security at risk.
Among the former State Department staff members that investigators would likely want to interview are longtime Clinton aides Huma Abedin, who is now vice chair of her presidential campaign, and Cheryl Mills, who served as her chief of staff. Philippe Reines, who served as a communication adviser at the State Department, and Jacob Sullivan, another Clinton aide, also may be on agents’ list.
Lawyers for Abedin, Mills, Reines and Sullivan didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment after normal business hours.
Brian Fallon, a Clinton campaign spokesman, didn’t immediately respond to calls and messages seeking comment. Earlier, he told CNN that the former secretary of state “has been cooperating with the Justice Department’s security inquiry, including offering in August to meet with them to assist their efforts if needed.”
During her tenure at the State Department, Clinton used the private email address to send personal and work correspondence. She said she took such a step as a matter of convenience and between 2009 and 2013 exchanged more than 60,000 such messages, about half of which she said were of a personal nature.
Clinton has expressed regret over using the private server and the way the issue has played out over the past year.
Using federal disclosure laws, Clinton’s critics have pressed the State Department to release thousands of pages of emails from her tenure as secretary. The department on Feb. 29 released its final batch of emails, bringing the total number of pages published to more than 52,000.
The agency said in January it was withholding from release 22 emails that included top-secret information. The Clinton campaign has criticized the move, blaming it on “over-classification run amok.”
Federal prosecutors recently granted immunity to a Clinton staff member who worked on the private email server, and he is fully cooperating with the investigation, the people said.
That person, Bryan Pagliano, worked on Clinton’s failed 2008 presidential campaign and the next year helped set up the server in her New York home that she used while serving as secretary of state. The grant of immunity to Pagliano was reported earlier by The Washington Post.
Pagliano’s lawyer, Mark MacDougall, didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Criminal charges in such cases are difficult to bring because prosecutors must generally prove that the classified data was intentionally mishandled — a hurdle that former FBI and Justice Department attorneys have said is a difficult one to surmount in court.
Even so, the questioning of Clinton and her staff is sure to ratchet up pressure on the presumptive Democratic nominee at a time she would much rather be focused on wrapping up the primary contests and making her case against Republican rivals.
Within hours of the Post reporting on the immunity grant to Pagliano, Republican candidates went on the attack, a sure sign that the controversy over Clinton’s email system will dog her for months to come.