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Former staffer who assisted Clinton with email will plead the Fifth to Congress

A former State Department employee who helped then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with her personal server and email account will invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to appear before the House Benghazi Committee.

Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, issued a subpoena last month requesting that the former staffer, Bryan Pagliano, appear before the committee for a deposition on September 10. Pagliano informed Gowdy of his decision to assert his Fifth Amendment rights in a letter he sent earlier this week.

The House Benghazi Committee was formed to investigate the September 11, 2012 attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya.

When asked on Fox News last month what Clinton's use of a private email server has to do with the Benghazi attack, Gowdy said, "Well, probably not much of anything." However, he added that the committee has shown an interest in investigating Clinton's complete email record so it can "write the definitive accounting" of the events in the Benghazi attack.

Hillary Clinton emails show frustration over classified info

Gowdy and other members of the Benghazi Committee on Thursday morning privately deposed former Clinton aide Cheryl Mills. Before entering the deposition, Gowdy suggested that Pagliano's decision to plead the Fifth could indicate there was some kind of wrongdoing.

"I know in the past why people have invoked that privilege, and you're free to glean whatever inference you want from the fact that he did," Gowdy told reporters.

In a memo, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Benghazi Committee, said Pagliano's decision was "understandable," given how politicized the email issue and the committee's investigations have become.

"Although multiple legal experts agree there is no evidence of criminal activity, it is certainly understandable that this witness' attorneys advised him to assert his Fifth Amendment rights, especially given the onslaught of wild and unsubstantiated accusations by Republican presidential candidates, Members of Congress, and others based on false leaks about the investigation," Cummings said in a statement. "Their insatiable desire to derail Secretary Clinton's presidential campaign at all costs has real consequences for any serious congressional effort."

Clinton's campaign spokesperson Nick Merrill released a statement saying that the campaign encouraged Pagliano to testify.

"We have been confident from the beginning that Hillary Clinton's use of a personal email was allowed and that she did not send or receive anything marked classified, facts confirmed by the State Department and the Inspector General," Merrill said. "She has made every effort to answer questions and be as helpful as possible, and has encouraged her aides, current and former, to do the same, including Bryan Pagliano. In fact, two of those aides are due to testify this week, and she is eager to testify in a public hearing in October."

Meanwhile, before heading into the deposition with Mills on Thursday, Gowdy said the committee had a number of questions for her given that she was Clinton's chief of staff "at all relevant times during the committee's jurisdiction."

Consequently, he said, "We're going ask her about the security profile leading up to the attacks, the administration's response during the ... attacks, the administration's explanations - plural - after the attacks, the ARB [Accountability Review Board] process, and executive branch efforts to comply with congressional oversight."

Asked why the committee didn't question Mills publicly -- as she requested -- Gowdy said, "She is no different from any other witness, and we have not had a public interview with any other witness. There are myriad reasons for that... not the least of which, if you're serious about getting the most amount of information, you're going to do it in a transcribed interview session, not a public session where members are limited to five or 10 minutes."

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