CNN: Aide's Fifth Amendment declaration sure makes the Hillary server fiasco look criminal, huh?

You think? CNN’s Elise Labott noted yesterday that Bryan Pagliano’s decision to plead the Fifth rather than testify before Congress — and even, as it turns out, cooperating with the FBI — makes it appear that the 2008 Hillary Clinton campaign aide that set up her secret server is afraid of criminal charges in the scandal.  Team Hillary says it urged everyone to cooperate with investigators and profess to be mystified as to why anyone would worry about an indictment, but that spin isn’t selling:

Michael Isikoff first reported on Pagliano’s refusal to cooperate with any part of the probe. It also sets up a potential indicator of just how serious this investigation will get. The one way around a Fifth Amendment claim is immunity, which would mean that “extremely serious” FBI investigators will have convinced Department of Justice prosecutors to get “extremely serious,” too:

The former aide to Hillary Clinton who helped set up and maintain her private email server has declined to talk to the FBI and the State Department inspector general’s office, as well as a congressional committee, invoking his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself, sources familiar with the investigation confirmed to Yahoo News.

The move by Bryan Pagliano, who served on Clinton’s 2008 campaign and later as a technology officer in the State Department, to decline to cooperate in two federal probes considerably raises the stakes in the Clinton email investigation, the sources said. It confronts the Justice Department with a decision about whether to grant him immunity in exchange for his testimony — a move that could be taken only were the department to escalate the probe into a full-scale criminal investigation, the sources said.

Former federal prosecutor Joseph DiGenova tells McClatchy that this may force the DoJ into empaneling a grand jury, a move with dire political and legal consequences for Hillary Clinton and her aides:

One former Republican U.S. attorney predicted Thursday that the development will compel the Justice Department to set aside the FBI’s limited inquiry into whether Clinton’s emails breached national security, empanel a federal grand jury and conduct a criminal investigation.

“Obviously, if he’s not going to cooperate, all of these people who were on her email are all going to get subpoenas now,” Joseph diGenova said. “It is fairly abundant that the setting up of the server – unencrypted, without State Department input – was done partially surreptitiously. And this gentleman who was part of that process could be criminally exposed for violating the espionage statutes, especially for the grossly negligent handling of classified information, which is a 10-year felony.” …

As U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia from 1983 to 1987, diGenova prosecuted Israeli spy [Jonathan] Pollard. He said he still has a security clearance above top secret because he represents clients in national security cases.

“When people like this little guy start taking the fifth,” diGenova said, “it means that a lot of other people along the way are going to do the same thing. This happened because she wanted to have an unencrypted server to protect her privacy, and in the course of doing that, she compromised national security information for four years, whether she wants to admit it or not.”

If Pagliano refused to cooperate after a grant of immunity, he would go to jail for contempt — perhaps as long as the investigation lasts, or in some cases as long as the presiding judge remains on the bench. Will Pagliano want to fall on that sword under these circumstances? Perhaps, but the desire to do so may indicate just how much Pagliano might have to say if he felt like talking. In the meantime, Pagliano can kiss any career in classified areas goodbye, at least for now. A failure to cooperate in a probe of potential nat-sec breaches should end any hope he’d have of getting a clearance in the foreseeable future, if for no other reason than being a bad risk.

It might put a big dent in Hillary’s already-floundering campaign, too. The Wall Street Journal reports that donors have had enough of her strategy on the secret server. The campaign has started reaching out to the big Democratic contributors, but they’re not interested in polishing the spin:

While campaigns routinely keep in touch with donors, the recent outreach by Mrs. Clinton’s camp has intensified as her position slips in the polls. A national averaging on shows her with 47% support compared with primary challenger Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 24%. At the end of May, she had the support of 61% of Democrats to his 13%.

Peter Buttenwieser, a major Democratic fundraiser who is backing Mrs. Clinton, said he participated in a conference call Wednesday with fellow donors from Pennsylvania and a pair of Clinton campaign officials. Mr. Buttenwieser told them he was concerned about polls showing that fewer people trust Mrs. Clinton and advised her camp to confront the email issue more directly. …

Florida attorney John Morgan, who said he raised nearly $1 million during a Clinton fundraiser at his house, said he told campaign officials they should have acted more quickly to quell the email matter.

“There’s two ways to kill a chicken. You can pluck it to death or you can wring its neck. They have plucked this chicken to death,” he said.

Mr. Morgan said he’s received several invitations to visit Brooklyn and participate in conference calls. So far, he’s declined to take part.

The donors aren’t abandoning Hillary yet, either. But if more of her team starts lawyering up and the DoJ starts readying immunity grants and grand juries, they may be prepared to do so.

Update: McClatchy’s report got Jonathan Pollard’s name incorrect; I’ve fixed it in their text.