Once upon a time, in the land of D.C., the United States Congress ordered ordered Hillary Clinton to preserve all of her emails. But instead of complying, the would-be president ordered her staff to cover them up. So the story goes, and today it was revealed that this “conspiracy theory” just might be true after all, thanks to Reddit and a loose-fingered IT guy named Paul Combetta.
Around the time of the Benghazi scandal two years ago, a user who goes by the handle u/stonetear posted a question in the r/exchangeserver subreddit asking for advice on how to erase emails for a “VIP” he was working for. The archived Reddit post does not mention names, but in light of Combetta’s refusal to testify in front of Congress for his role in Clinton’s deleted emails, it does not look good for either him or Clinton.
“Hello all — I may be facing a very interesting situation where I need to strip out a VIP’s (VERY VIP) email address from a bunch of archived email that I have both in a live Exchange mailbox, as well as a PST file. Basically, they don’t want the VIP’s email address exposed to anyone, and want to be able to either strip out or replace the email address in the to/from fields in all of the emails we want to send out.”
In layman’s terms, the Reddit user wanted to remove his VIP’s email address from all emails and replace it with a dummy address. Stripping out Clinton’s address in all existing emails would prevent their inclusion in a mandated release. In the r/conspiracy subreddit, one user explained that this would give Clinton “plausible deniability to claim she wasn’t directly involved in the emails,” if anything questionable emerged.
Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that Combetta testified in a May interview with the Benghazi committee that he had been aware of the order to preserve Clinton’s emails but had deleted them anyway.
Although Reddit user u/stonetear’s identity is not absolutely certain, what is certain is the fact that Combetta uses the handle around the internet. RedStateWatcher posted a screen capture of Combetta’s Etsy account, where a message to user stonetear shows Combetta’s full name. RedStateWatcher also posted a screen capture of Combetta’s Gmail address, which is also “stonetear.” Although it’s not fully certain that the Reddit user in question is Combetta, it’s not likely that another person going be “stonetear” would need to cover up emails for a highly VIP person.
Most people realize that if you are going to ask Reddit a highly sensitive question in which you must remain anonymous, you use what is called a throw-away account. You create a temporary username with no email attached to it and post your question. If you want to remain really anonymous, you use a public computer at a library several towns over to ensure that no one can trace the IP to your home.
As for his Reddit question, Combetta received a lot of advice telling him that what he wanted to do was extremely difficult and he’d have better luck just deleting the emails.
“There is no supported way to do what you’re asking. You can only delete emails after they’re stored in the database. You can’t change them. If there was a feature in Exchange that allowed this, it could result in major legal issues. There may be ways to hack a solution, but I am not aware of any.”
Further implicating Combetta in his efforts to cover up Clinton’s emails is the fact that Reddit user u/stonetear has spent part of Monday deleting his posts. A quick-thinking Redditor caught these deletions in real time as the page was refreshed and posts were suddenly gone.
Combetta posted his question to Reddit in July 2014. The first Benghazi hearing into Clinton’s actions as Secretary of State occurred in September 2014, making the timeline for his request line up perfectly with the events.
The fact that Combetta more than likely asked a group of online strangers how to obstruct justice is evidence that his IT skills, and knowledge of the internet, are severely lacking. It is common knowledge that trying to alter emails can lead to legal troubles for the offending party, especially if it involves a VIP. Combetta should also know that deleting something from the internet is futile, due to many internet archives available, and users who are quick to archive information on their personal devices. Combetta’s clumsy cover-up is also causing a Streisand effect that may prove to be Clinton’s undoing.
[Featured Image by Molly Riley/AP Images]