A "non-techie" Twitter sleuth with 3,000 followers has just caused Hillary Clinton's campaign a new headache: According to screenshots she published Sunday - which are now reportedly under review in the House Oversight Committee - the IT specialist who deleted Clinton's emails may first have turned to Reddit for advice on the technology.
The Reddit posts in question come from a user named stonetear, and were made in July and December 2014. @GOPPollAnalyst, the woman who unearthed the posts, claims stonetear is Paul Combetta, a computer specialist with Platte River Networks who worked with Clinton's staff during her time as secretary of state.
In the posts, stonetear asks for technical advice on retaining and deleting email messages that are more than 60 days old, as well as on removing the email address of an unnamed "VERY VIP" client from email archives.
"Hello all," one of the posts begins. "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. ... Does anyone have experience with something like this, and/or suggestions on how this might be accomplished?"
"The issue is that these emails involve the private email address of someone you'd recognise," another one says.
The big question, of course, is whether Combetta is in fact stonetear - and what that would mean for both the IT specialist (who was granted immunity by the Justice Department during the Clinton email investigation) and for Clinton herself. The posts do not appear to reference deleting emails, but rather to hiding email addresses. That could signal nothing of note.
Still, Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., told The Hill that his Government Operations subcommittee would like more clarity on why the changes were requested, if they were in fact requested by Clinton or her staff. Critics have also raised questions about the propriety and security of a computer technician asking strangers for help with a government project.
"If it is determined that the request to change email addresses was made by someone so closely aligned with the Secretary's IT operation as Mr. Combetta, then it will certainly prompt additional inquiry," he said. "The date of the Reddit post in relationship to the establishment of the Select Committee on Benghazi is also troubling."
The evidence that @GOPPollAnalyst and others have uncovered is entirely circumstantial - which is pretty typical of crowdsourced investigative efforts, even the more effective ones. This is what @GOPPollAnalyst and her allies on Twitter and Reddit have dug up to support the Combetta/Stonetear connection:
- Archived domain records show the website combetta.com is registered to the email address email@example.com.
- The Etsy user stonetear lists his name as Paul Combetta. (The account was registered in 2011.)
- A website for the '90s role-playing game Betrayal at Kondor, maintained by an unknown person, thanks a Paul Combetta for hosting some files and lists firstname.lastname@example.org as his email address.
- An archived profile on the site exiles.darkseduction.net, dated to February 2003, includes two pictures of a man who closely resembles Combetta, and who lists his names as "Paul" and "StoneTear" and his website as "putergot.net."
- Putergod.net is, for what it's worth, also registered to email@example.com.
- Stonetear's Reddit history - now deleted - made reference to Rhode Island, where Combetta once lived.
- The email address firstname.lastname@example.org was used to register a Facebook profile for a "Paul Hamilton," which is mostly blank and has only 40 friends. One of them is, however, a woman whose maiden name appears to have been Combetta until a 2015 wedding.
- The timing of two of Stonetear's Reddit posts coincides with events in the Clinton email saga. One post, dated July 24, 2014, came one day after the House Select Committee on Benghazi and the State Department reached an agreement on producing records. The second, which is dated Dec, 10, 2014, and describes a 60-day email retention policy, came the same month that a longtime Clinton aide requested that their email retention policy be shortened to 60 days.
@GOPPollAnalyst did not immediately respond to The Washington Post's request for comment, but it would appear that she's not quite done yet. The (yet-anonymous!) woman, who has said she's studying law "with concentrations in eDiscovery/eLitigation," has spent the past 36 hours tweeting constantly with conservative power-users and media outlets.
She credits the story's virality to the Twitter parody account @RepStevenSmith, who retweeted her findings shortly before they were picked up by Reddit.
"The power of Twitter," she posted Tuesday morning. "Thank you everyone. ... Great job to Twitter and Reddit users for blowing this up."