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GOP senators ask Justice to clarify Clinton email inquiry

WASHINGTON — Two top Republican senators asked the Justice Department on Monday whether it is conducting a criminal investigation related to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s use of a private server for email and whether the computer specialist who helped set it up is the subject.

Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin also asked Attorney General Loretta Lynch whether the department would deem a preliminary offer of immunity to the computer worker as a waiver of his constitutional rights against self-incrimination.

Computer specialist Bryan Pagliano has refused to answer questions about his role in setting up the server used by Clinton while she was secretary of state. His lawyers say Pagliano does not want to relinquish his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential front-runner, has been dogged by questions about her use of a private email account for government business.

“Does the FBI or any other component of the Department of Justice currently have a criminal investigation open relating to Secretary Clinton’s private server?” the senators wrote Lynch. “If so, is Mr. Pagliano a subject of that investigation?”

The senators asked her to respond to this question and several others by Sept. 21.

Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Johnson, head of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, have said they are considering offering Pagliano immunity from any potential prosecution in an effort to compel him to testify.

But Pagliano’s lawyers have resisted, in part because of uncertainty over how the Justice Department would perceive such an offer.

While the Justice Department generally prefers not to talk about ongoing cases, Grassley and Johnson said the information they are seeking is critical to help their committees decide whether to offer Pagliano immunity.

“The department received the letter and has no further comment,” said Justice Department spokeswoman Emily Pierce.

Grassley and Johnson sent a separate letter to Secretary of State John Kerry asking for records related to Pagliano’s service at the State Department and his role in the department’s handling of computerized information. The senators also are seeking payment records for Pagliano, including payments to him made by Clinton personally.

“Was the Department of State aware that, in addition to getting paid as a full-time employee at the department, Mr. Pagliano was also getting paid to manage Secretary Clinton’s private server?” Grassley and Johnson wrote. If so, who disclosed that information and when? they asked.

The senators said they want the State Department’s chief information officer, Steven Taylor, to submit to a transcribed interview with committee staff. Taylor was one of Pagliano’s supervisors at the State Department.

Pagliano appeared briefly behind closed doors last week before a House panel investigating the deadly 2012 Benghazi attacks. He refused to answer questions, asserting his constitutional right not to incriminate himself, committee members said.

Grassley and Johnson sent a third letter, to Pagliano himself, saying they were disappointed that he declined to answer questions from the Senate committees and asking him to reconsider.

“We continue to believe that you possess information about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email account and server that is unavailable elsewhere,” they wrote. The letter was sent to Pagliano in care of his lawyers.

Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Benghazi panel, has said Democrats on the panel would support granting immunity to Pagliano. But the panel’s chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., has rejected that idea, saying he does not want Congress to interfere with the Justice Department inquiry.

Federal investigators have begun looking into the security of Clintons’ email setup amid concerns from the inspector general for the intelligence community that classified information may have passed through the system. Clinton provided the server to the FBI last month.