FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday announced the agency is not recommending the Justice Department bring charges against Hillary Clinton, despite denouncing the former secretary of state and her colleagues for the way they handled classified information through private email servers.
“Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is information that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information,” Comey told reporters in Washington, D.C., noting that the probe has found that the former secretary of state used several different email servers and numerous devices during her time in office.
Even so, Comey added later, “Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case. Prosecutors necessarily weigh a number of factors before deciding whether to bring charges.”
Of the 30,000 emails Clinton turned over to the State Department in 2014, Comey announced that 110 emails in 52 separate chains had been determined to contain classified information “at the time they were sent or received.” Of those, he continued, eight included “Top Secret” information, while 36 chains had “Secret” information at the time it was received, while eight contained “Confidential” information, the lowest level of classification. In addition to those, another 2,000 were “up-classified” to make them “Confidential” after they had already been sent.
Comey peppered his remarks with an array of judgmental language directed at Clinton and State Department employees, remarking that in general and particularly with respect to its unclassified email systems, the department was “generally lacking in the kind of care for classified information found elsewhere in the government.”
And while Clinton has repeatedly claimed that she neither sent nor received information that was deemed classified, Comey commented that “only a very small number of the e-mails containing classified information bore markings indicating the presence of classified information.”
“But even if information is not marked ‘classified’ in an email, participants who know or should know that the subject matter is classified are still obligated to protect it,” Comey said.
Donald Trump quickly condemned the FBI’s decision, declaring the system “rigged.”
“The system is rigged. General Petraeus got in trouble for far less. Very very unfair! As usual, bad judgment,” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning, making reference to the disgraced former CIA director who resigned in the wake of an extramarital affair with his biographer with whom he had shared classified information.
Trump reiterated his claims of a rigged system in a subsequent tweet. “FBI director said Crooked Hillary compromised our national security. No charges. Wow! #RiggedSystem,” he wrote.
In prosecuting similar cases, Comey noted that past instances have “involved some combination of clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information or vast quantities of information exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct or indications of disloyalty to the United States or efforts to obstruct justice.”
“We do not see those things here. To be clear, this is not to suggest that in similar circumstances, a person who engaged in this activity would face no consequences. To the contrary, those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions, but that’s not what we’re deciding now,” Comey added. “As a result, although the Department of Justice makes final decisions on matters like this, we are expressing to Justice our view that no charges are appropriate in this case.”
Among those uncovered that were not produced to the State Department, Comey said that three of them were classified when they were sent or received, one at the Secret level and two at the Confidential Level.
“I should add here that we found no evidence that any of the additional work-related emails were intentionally deleted in an effort to conceal them,” Comey explained. “Our assessment is that, like many e-mail users, Secretary Clinton periodically deleted emails or emails were purged from the system when devices were changed. Because she was not using a government account—or even a commercial account like Gmail—there was no archiving at all of her emails, so it is not surprising that we discovered e-mails that were not on Secretary Clinton’s system in 2014, when she produced the 30,000 e-mails to the State Department.”
Comey said investigators did not find “direct evidence” that Clinton’s personal email domain, in its various configurations since 2009, had been compromised by hackers.
“But, given the nature of the system and of the actors potentially involved, we assess that we would be unlikely to see such direct evidence,” he added. “We do assess that hostile actors gained access to the private commercial email accounts of people with whom Secretary Clinton was in regular contact from her personal account. We also assess that Secretary Clinton’s use of a personal e-mail domain was both known by a large number of people and readily apparent. She also used her personal email extensively while outside the United States, including sending and receiving work-related emails in the territory of sophisticated adversaries. Given that combination of factors, we assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal email account.”
Anticipating the reaction to the recommendation, Comey said, “I know there will be intense public debate in the wake of this recommendation as there was throughout the investigation. What I can assure the American people is that this investigation was done honestly, competently and independently, no outside influence of any kind was brought to bear.”
“I know there were many opinions expressed by people not part of the investigation including people in government, but none of that mattered to us,” he concluded. “Opinions are irrelevant, and they were all uninformed by insight into our investigation because we did our investigation the right way. Only facts matter, and the FBI found them here in an entirely apolitical and professional way. I couldn’t be prouder to be part of this organization.”
Comey prefaced the announcement by saying that he has not coordinated his statement with the Justice Department or any other government agency.
“They do not know what I’m about to say,” Comey said, thanking the agents who worked on the case.
The bureau met with the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee on Saturday morning for three and a half hours at its headquarters in Washington, D.C., in what the campaign characterized as a “voluntary interview.”
Campaign spokesman Nick Merrill told reporters in a statement Saturday that Clinton was “pleased” to help assist the Justice Department in wrapping up its investigation but said Clinton wouldn’t offer any additional comments regarding the interview “out of respect for the investigative process.”
Clinton told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd in a phone interview Saturday that she was “eager” to meet with the FBI but had “no knowledge” of when the federal agency would conclude its investigation. The email saga has dogged Clinton’s campaign since before it officially began, but the former secretary of state has long maintained that she didn’t send or receive any emails that were classified at the time.
Comey’s announcement comes hours before President Barack Obama and Clinton are scheduled to appear together on the campaign trail for the first time at an afternoon rally in Charlotte, North Carolina.
But the announcement also comes a week after Attorney General Loretta Lynch held an impromptu meeting with Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, who nominated Lynch to be U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York in 1999.
The half-hour conclave that both said was about golf and grandchildren reignited concerns over a possible conflict of interest with a Democrat-led Justice Department investigating a Democratic White House contender. Bill Clinton and the Justice Department chief both acknowledged the poor optics of their so-called tarmac summit aboard a private plane at a Phoenix airport.
On Friday, Lynch said their meeting “cast a shadow” over the investigation and asserted that she “certainly wouldn’t do it again.” She also added that she “fully” expects to accept the recommendations she receives from career prosecutors.