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House panel approves contempt resolution against Clinton aide

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) speaks on Capitol Hill on May 17. 2016. (AP/Susan Walsh)

A House committee on Thursday began the process of holding a former Hillary Clinton aide in contempt of Congress for his failure to appear before the panel under subpoena.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee approved a contempt of Congress resolution by a party-line vote of 19 to 15 because the former State Department aide, Bryan Pagliano, did not attend its 10 a.m. hearing to testify about his role in setting up Clinton’s private email server in 2009.

“Subpoenas are not optional,” Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said. “This committee cannot perform its duty … if subpoenas are ignored, so we are left with no choice but to consider this resolution.”

Pagliano failed to attend a related hearing on Sept. 13 to answer questions about Clinton’s record-keeping, noting he previously invoked his constitutional right against self-incrimination when asked about the same topic by the House Select Committee on Benghazi.

His position remained the same ahead of Thursday’s hearing, according to letters obtained by the Post.

“You and the Committee have been told from the beginning that Mr. Pagliano will continue to assert his Fifth Amendment rights and will decline to answer any questions put to him by your Committee,” Pagliano’s attorneys with Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld wrote to Chaffetz Wednesday night.

“In an effort to resolve this matter, Mr. Pagliano has offered to assert his rights on the record before this Committee in Executive Session. You have flatly refused that offer and continue to insist that Mr. Pagliano appear in a public session where his further and repeated assertion of his constitutional right not to testify can be videotaped and broadcast.”

To take effect, a contempt resolution must be approved by the full House, after which the matter moves to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, who would decide whether or not to prosecute.

Pagliano’s lawyers suggested Chaffetz wanted Pagliano to appear in person to take the fifth to create a photo opportunity that would damage Clinton’s presidential campaign.

“Your demand under the present circumstances, that Mr. Pagliano again assert his constitutional rights in front of video cameras six weeks before the presidential election, betrays a naked political agenda and furthers no valid legislative aid,” the legal team wrote.

“Mr. Pagliano is defending a critical principal of individual liberty and the constitutional right of a private citizen to resist partisan political forces masquerading as proper government functions.”

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) said that by refusing to appear to take the fifth, Pagliano sets a precedent that could “destroy the whole basis for our government.”

“You will destroy this committee. You will destroy the congressional oversight process. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Republican or Democrat… we cannot have people come here and deny the right under the Constitution for us to question them,” Mica said.

The Oversight Committee issued two subpoenas for Pagliano to testify and produce his agreement of limited immunity with the Justice Department in its investigation of the handling of classified information.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the committee’s ranking member, said the serving of multiple subpoenas to Pagliano by federal marshals is the “very definition of abuse.”

“The Republican frenzy is focused exclusively and obsessively on Hillary Clinton, and that is for political reasons,” he said.

Lawyers for Pagliano wrote that sharing the agreement is not possible because it is under seal in a pending legal case about Clinton’s emails involving the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch.

“So long as [the order placing the agreement under seal] remains in effect, the documents remain under seal and we are precluded from producing them to the Committee in response to your subpoena,” the lawyers wrote.

Spencer Hsu contributed.