All but four of the 30,490 emails from Hillary Clinton’s unauthorized email server were forwarded to a private Google email address featuring a name similar to a Chinese company, according to documents released by a Senate committee on Aug. 15.
Virtually every email that was sent to and from the Clinton-email server was forwarded to “firstname.lastname@example.org,” which raised concerns that a foreign actor gained access to Clinton’s emails after an intelligence community inspector general (ICIG) investigator searched Google for “Carter Heavy Industries” and came up with a result for Shandong Carter Heavy Industry Co., Ltd, according to the documents (pdf).
Shandong Carter Heavy Industry is a Chinese manufacturer of excavators and heavy machinery. The company did not respond to a request for comment.
Frank Rucker, the ICIG investigator, and Jeanette McMillian, an ICIG attorney, told the FBI about the anomaly on Feb. 18, 2016, at a meeting which included Peter Strzok, who had just taken over as the section chief heading the investigation. Rucker told Congress that Strzok was “aloof and dismissive” and didn’t ask many questions.
Strzok has since gained notoriety for text messages he exchanged with FBI attorney Lisa Page, with whom he was having an extramarital affair. The pair expressed bias against then-candidate Donald Trump and in favor of Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign.
McMillian told Congress that her understanding of the Carter Heavy Industries email address was that it was a “drop box” to which the emails from the Clinton server were sent in real time.
“Even if you didn’t address an email to this address, the email went to it anyway,” McMillian said.
Rucker told Congress that it appeared that the Carter Heavy Industries email address was inserted into Clinton’s server “based on his reading of the metadata.” Rucker was also concerned because he reviewed an email in which Clinton aide Huma Abedin and Abedin’s husband, Anthony Weiner, discuss how Weiner’s account was possibly hacked by a political opponent who ended up receiving copies of all of his emails.
The investigator told Congress that it appears that the Carter Heavy Industries email was inserted into the routing table of Clinton’s server, but that he could only be sure if he examined the server, which he did not have access to. There could be an alternative explanation as to why the email address was in virtually every message, Rucker said.
McMillian and Rucker were interviewed by the Senate Finance and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committees on Dec. 4, 2018, in response to media reports that cited anonymous sources claiming that China gained access to Clinton’s emails. The committees released unclassified versions of those transcripts along with several sets of supporting documents on Aug. 14.
The documents include several emails from Clinton and her staffers with message metadata showing the Carter Heavy Industries email address as a recipient.
Inspector General’s Inquiry
Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz was aware of the ICIG’s referral to the FBI but did not address it in his 568-page report on the FBI and DOJ handling of the Clinton-email inquiry. Horowitz had promised Congress a year ago to look into and report on what the FBI did to investigate the matter. The newly released documents include the results of Horowitz’s inquiry in the form of an April 9, 2019, letter to senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.)
In the letter, Horowitz and Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson write that the Carter Heavy Industries email account was created by Platte River Networks employee Paul Combetta, who managed Clinton’s email server. Combetta allegedly created the Carter Heavy Industries email on Aug. 20, 2012. Combetta then used the email as a “dummy email” in order to transfer messages archived on Clinton’s second private server to the Platte River Networks server in early 2014.
What Combetta did with the email account between 2012 and 2014 and who else had access to it before and after the transfer remains a mystery. Neither the DOJ nor the ICIG inspector generals provide any details on whether the FBI ever examined the matter.
Combetta’s use of this email account is addressed in Horowitz’s report, although it is referred to as a “dummy email” instead of revealing the actual address. Horowitz and Atkinson do not explain how Combetta came to pick the email address. Combetta’s lawyer told Horowitz that the Carter Heavy Industries email was a made-up name and that Combetta had no connection to Shandong Carter Heavy Industry Co., Ltd.
Combetta, through an attorney, refused to be interviewed by the DOJ inspector general about the matter, according to the letter. He also said he had no documents responsive to subpoena about the issue.
Horowitz wrote that his office did not find any evidence to contradict the claims of Combetta’s lawyer.
“Accordingly, other than the similarity discussed above between the dummy email address and the name of a Chinese company identified by the former ICIG analyst and former Inspector General McCullough during a Google search, the ICIG and the DOJ OIG are unaware of any information that links Combetta or the dummy email address that he created with the Chinese government or a Chinese-owned company,” Horowitz and Atkinson wrote.
Correction: the headline and text of the article have been adjusted to more accurately reflect the source documents. The name of the Chinese company involved, Shandong Carter Heavy Industry Ltd., came up in a Google search by ICIG investigator Frank Rucker, who became concerned that a foreign actor gained access to Hillary Clinton’s emails.