FBI Director James Comey said Tuesday that he would not recommend charges against Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state but he added Clinton and her aides were “extremely careless” in handling classified information.
“Our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case,” Comey announced after a lengthy recap of the investigation the FBI conducted.
Comey’s decision not to recommend charges likely removes the threat of prosecution in the middle of Clinton’s campaign for the presidency, but the political fallout will continue.
Comey delivered a stunning tongue-lashing of Clinton and her State Department colleagues. His stinging critique came just hours before Clinton is scheduled to campaign with President Barack Obama for the first time this election season.
“Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information,” he said, “there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”
Clinton’s presumptive Republican opponent Donald Trump blasted Comey’s decision an example of a rigged system.
“The system is rigged. General (David) Petraeus got in trouble for far less. Very very unfair! As usual, bad judgment,” Trump tweeted.
Comey made clear at the outset that he had not forewarned the Department of Justice or the administration what he was about to do.
“They do not know what I’m about to say,” he said at the opening of his remarks.
Comey said that the FBI “painstakingly” combed through every bit of Clinton’s multiple servers and mobile devices that they could from her four-year tenure as secretary of state.
He described a series of obstacles, including for example a server that had its software wiped.
“It was like removing the frame from a huge jigsaw puzzle and then dumping all the pieces on the floor. … We searched through all of it,” he said.
Comey said of the 30,000 emails that Clinton’s team turned over to the State Department, 110 emails in 52 email chains were determined to have contained classified information “at the time they were sent or received,” Comey said. Eight of those chains contained information considered “top secret,” the highest level of classification.
That’s in addition to 2,000 emails that were “upclassified,” or determined to have classified information only in hindsight.
Comey also said the FBI found “thousands” of emails that were work-related but deleted and not given to the State Department, either by regular purging by Clinton or officials during her tenure or mistaken deletion by her lawyers removing personal emails before turning over work-related emails to the State Department.
Three of those were classified at the time, he said.
However, Comey said there was not evidence of any kind of coverup in regards to those emails.
“We believe our investigation has been sufficient to give us reasonable confidence that there was no intentional misconduct in relation to that sorting effort,” Comey said.
He also noted that while the FBI could find no direct evidence of an intrusion into Clinton’s server by hostile foreign governments, given that she corresponded with individuals whose accounts were compromised and that the server was not secured by government protections, and that she used her email in hostile foreign territories, “It is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s email account.”
Ultimately, Comey said his recommendation against charges stems from the fact that there is no precedent for charging someone under similar circumstances.
“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,” Comey said, saying the FBI could not find a single case in which a person was charged with crimes for similar actions.
He also emphatically stated that the investigation was conducted fairly and unbiased.
“This investigation was done honestly, competently and independently. No outside influence of any kind was brought to bear,” Comey said. “Opinions are irrelevant. … We did our investigation the right way. Only facts matter and the FBI found them here in an entirely apolitical and professional way.”