Judicial Watch Asks Court to Compel Answers from Clinton IT Official Who Asserted Fifth Amendment
‘Mr. Bentel has not demonstrated he has a legitimate fear that answers to all 87 questions present a danger to him.’– Judicial Watch Motion to Compel
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced that it filed a Motion to Compel former State Department Director of Information Resource Management of the Executive Secretariat John Bentel to answer 87 questions asked of him during his October 24 Judicial Watch deposition concerning former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s non-state.gov email system. At the deposition, Bentel answered each of the questions, “On advice from my legal counsel, I decline to answer the question and I invoke my Fifth Amendment rights.” The deposition and yesterday’s filing come in connection with a Judicial Watch Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit that seeks records about the controversial employment status of Huma Abedin, deputy chief of staff to former Secretary Clinton (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:13-cv-01363 )).
Judicial Watch’s court filing refutes Bentel’s claim for Fifth Amendment self-incrimination protection, arguing:
To date, Mr. Bentel has not demonstrated he has a legitimate fear that answers to all 87 questions present a danger to him. Nor has he demonstrated any such fear is more than fanciful or merely speculative. Mr. Bentel therefore must answer all questions asked of him during his deposition…
Mr. Bentel has invoked his Fifth Amendment rights without providing any justification whatsoever. He has not identified – let alone demonstrated – a fear of prosecution in answering any of the 87 questions asked of him during his deposition. Nor has he demonstrated any such fear is more than fanciful or merely speculative. Mr. Bentel has not provided Plaintiff or the Court with any pertinent information to allow it to assess the validity of the invocation for each of the 87 questions Mr. Bentel declined to answer.
On August 19, 2016, U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan granted Judicial Watch’s request to depose Bentel, citing significant discrepancies in Bentel previous statements on the Clinton non-state.gov email system:
The Court is persuaded that Mr. Bentel should be deposed because the record in this case appears to contradict his sworn testimony before the [House Select] Benghazi Committee. . . . Specifically, Mr. Bentel testified that he was not aware that Secretary Clinton’s email account was housed on a private server until media reports in 2015. . . . However, several emails indicate Mr. Bentel knew about the private server as early as 2009.
In ordering Bentel’s deposition, Judge Sullivan also cited a May 2016 Inspector General’s report that found:
Mr. Bentel told employees in his office that Secretary Clinton’s email arrangement had been approved by the State Department’s legal staff and also instructed his subordinates not to discuss the Secretary’s email again:
In one meeting, one staff member raised concerns that information sent and received on Secretary Clinton’s account could contain Federal records that needed to be preserved in order to satisfy Federal recordkeeping requirements. According to the staff member, the Director stated that the Secretary’s personal system had been reviewed and approved by Department legal staff and that the matter was not to be discussed any further. . . . According to the other S/ES-IRM staff member who raised concerns about the server, the Director stated that the mission of S/ES-IRM is to support the Secretary and instructed the staff never to speak of the Secretary’s personal email system again.
Judicial Watch has deposed seven other former Clinton top aides and current State Department officials, including top Clinton aides Cheryl Mills and Huma Abedin. Judicial Watch also deposed IT official Brian Pagliano, who also asserted his Fifth Amendment right not to testify during the Judicial Watch deposition. On October 13, Judicial Watch released Clinton’s responses to interrogatories under oath regarding her non-government email system, during which she claimed she “does not recall” 20 times.
“It should disturb Americans that yet another Clinton IT official asserted the Fifth Amendment rather than answer straight-forward questions about Clinton’s email scheme,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “A witness can’t invoke the Fifth Amendment by citing a fear of prosecution that doesn’t reasonably exist.”
The full case history of the Abedin employment lawsuit is accessible on the Judicial Watch website.