GOP Leaders Won’t Bless Smith’s Probe of Clinton Emails

The House Science chairman has launched his own investigation into the security of Hillary Clinton’s messages, but it’s not clear whether the leadership is on board.

Hillary Clinton testifies before the House Select Committee on Benghazi on Oct. 22.
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Daniel Newhauser and Ben Geman
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Daniel Newhauser and Ben Geman
Feb. 1, 2016, 3:21 p.m.

House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Kev­in Mc­Carthy in­dic­ated Monday that a long­time House chair­man over­stepped his jur­is­dic­tion when he launched an in­vest­ig­a­tion in­to former Sec­ret­ary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton’s private email serv­er last month.

Sci­ence, Space, and Tech­no­logy Chair­man Lamar Smith is prob­ing wheth­er private con­tract­ors who set up Clin­ton’s serv­er at her New York home fol­lowed fed­er­al cy­ber­se­cur­ity guidelines. But Mc­Carthy said he be­lieves the mat­ter to be un­der the pur­view of Rep. Trey Gowdy’s Se­lect Com­mit­tee on Benghazi.

“I have the same im­pres­sion as you, that it would be Gowdy’s jur­is­dic­tion,” Mc­Carthy said, de­clin­ing to an­swer wheth­er Smith had pre­cleared the in­vest­ig­a­tion with lead­er­ship.

Smith’s of­fice also de­clined to an­swer wheth­er he no­ti­fied party lead­ers be­fore send­ing let­ters ask­ing for more in­form­a­tion to four private com­pan­ies that helped set up the Chap­paqua, New York serv­er. But Smith spokes­man Zachary Kurz said the chair­man is fol­low­ing up on a cy­ber­se­cur­ity hear­ing he held last month.

“Dur­ing the hear­ing, the chair­man had an ex­change with a private-sec­tor wit­ness who stated un­equi­voc­ally that a fed­er­al of­fi­cial us­ing a private serv­er and email ad­dress as her of­fi­cial gov­ern­ment email risked ex­pos­ing clas­si­fied data and that his com­pany wouldn’t do it be­cause of fed­er­al laws and cy­ber­se­cur­ity guidelines,” Kurz said. “Based on that testi­mony, the chair­man de­term­ined that fur­ther over­sight was ne­ces­sary.”

Smith is fa­cing a primary chal­lenge this fall from a tea-party-backed chal­lenger, Matt Mc­Call, who failed to un­seat him last year. The Cook Polit­ic­al Re­port rates the dis­trict an R+12, mean­ing it is solidly Re­pub­lic­an. The Texas del­eg­a­tion was shaken last year when 17-term Rep. Ral­ph Hall sur­pris­ingly lost his primary elec­tion in a run­off to former U.S. At­tor­ney John Ratcliffe.

The Clin­ton in­vest­ig­a­tion has been a sens­it­ive top­ic since its in­cep­tion, and es­pe­cially since Mc­Carthy was roundly cri­ti­cized for in­sinu­at­ing on tele­vi­sion that the Benghazi Com­mit­tee suc­ceeded in polit­ic­ally dam­aging Clin­ton—com­ments he later re­trac­ted.

Former Speak­er John Boehner had launched the Benghazi com­mit­tee to stream­line the in­vest­ig­a­tion and avoid a patch­work of probes in­to the Benghazi at­tacks. He also en­sured that after news of Clin­ton’s private email serv­er came to light, in­quiry in­to the setup would re­main with the Benghazi pan­el. But with Boehner re­tired and his suc­cessor, Speak­er Paul Ry­an, prom­ising wider lat­it­ude to com­mit­tee chairs, there ap­pears to be less cent­ral­ized con­trol.

Mc­Carthy’s latest com­ments ar­rive amid in­tense in­terest in Clin­ton’s emails among Re­pub­lic­ans, es­pe­cially in light of new State De­part­ment rev­el­a­tions sev­er­al days ago.

On Fri­day, the State De­part­ment said it was with­hold­ing sev­en email threads total­ing 37 pages from its latest re­lease of Clin­ton’s emails be­cause they con­tain a “cat­egory of top-secret in­form­a­tion.” However, the de­part­ment said the mes­sages were not marked clas­si­fied when they were sent.

Clin­ton’s cam­paign at­tacked the de­cision to with­hold the mes­sages, call­ing it “over-clas­si­fic­a­tion run amok.”

“We un­der­stand that these emails were likely ori­gin­ated on the State De­part­ment’s un­clas­si­fied sys­tem be­fore they were ever shared with Sec­ret­ary Clin­ton, and they have re­mained on the de­part­ment’s un­clas­si­fied sys­tem for years,” said Bri­an Fal­lon, Clin­ton’s press sec­ret­ary.

Clin­ton’s email setup is already un­der in­vest­ig­a­tion by the Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee and Home­land Se­cur­ity Com­mit­tee. Days after Smith an­nounced his probe, House Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee Chair­man Jason Chaf­fetz an­nounced that he was look­ing in­to wheth­er the State De­part­ment ob­struc­ted Free­dom of In­form­a­tion Act re­quests un­der Clin­ton’s ten­ure.

The Benghazi pan­el’s probe played a key role un­cov­er­ing Clin­ton’s use of a private serv­er, al­though that probe is more dir­ectly fo­cused on the 2012 at­tacks in Libya.

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