House Democrat slams GOP chairman over Clinton email inquiry

Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016, before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on 'Examining FOIA Compliance at the Department of State'. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016, during the committee's hearing on 'Examining FOIA Compliance at the Department of State.' (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

WASHINGTON — The top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee lashed out at the panel's Republican chairman Friday, accusing him of abusing his authority by unfairly targeting former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to damage her presidential bid.

Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland charged that the oversight chairman, Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, is using the committee's resources and taxpayer dollars "to engage in an astonishing onslaught of political attacks" against Clinton.

Cummings said he was incensed that Chaffetz and Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia have asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Clinton lied to Congress, calling the accusation "ludicrous" and part of a Republican pattern involving Clinton: "accuse, investigate, fail, repeat."

FBI Director James Comey announced in July that he had recommended against criminal charges for Clinton and her aides following a yearlong investigation into the potential mishandling of classified information on the private email server she used.

This week, Comey told FBI employees that the decision to forgo criminal charges was not a close call.

"At the end of the day, the case itself was not a cliff-hanger; despite all the chest-beating by people no longer in government, there really wasn't a prosecutable case," Comey wrote in an internal memo to FBI employees.

Republicans have criticized Comey's decision and have asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Clinton lied last year when she testified before the House Benghazi committee. Chaffetz also has asked Justice to review whether emails were illegally deleted from Clinton's private server.

In a letter to Chaffetz, Cummings criticized the GOP chairman for issuing "a flurry of desperate subpoenas" in recent days without any debate or vote by the committee.

Chaffetz has demanded that employees of a Colorado technology firm that oversaw Clinton's private email server appear at a hearing next week to review claims that Clinton or her aides ordered the destruction of emails or other documents to hide them from investigators. Paul Combetta and Bill Thornton, who work for Denver-based Platte River Networks, have been ordered to appear at a committee hearing on Tuesday.

"By taking these actions, you are staging a set-up," Cummings told Chaffetz. "First, you accuse them of criminal activity without evidence and refer them for criminal investigation. Then you rush to subpoena them to testify without any debate or vote, virtually guaranteeing that some will invoke the Fifth Amendment when their attorneys advise them to steer far clear of our committee."

A spokeswoman for Chaffetz declined to comment Friday.

The letter by Cummings comes a day after a committee hearing Thursday on the State Department's record-keeping devolved into a partisan battle over Clinton's private email server.

Republicans on the panel plan back-to-back hearings early next week as they focus on Clinton two months before the election.

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