CNBC Everett Rosenfeld - 5 Jul 2016
FBI Director James Comey said his office is not recommending prosecutors bring charges against Hillary Clinton for her handling of classified information in connection with private email servers while secretary of state.
"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," Comey said Tuesday.
Addressing inevitable complaints about the investigation, Comey — a Republican — emphasized that "this investigation was done honestly, competently and independently."
"No outside influence of any kind was brought to bear," he said. "I know there were many opinions expressed by people who were not part of the investigation — including people in government — but none of that mattered to us. Opinions are irrelevant, and they were all uninformed by insight into our investigation because we did our investigation the right way."
Comey began his address by explaining what investigators found. He said that the probe showed that 110 emails in 52 email chains were determined to include classified information at the time they were received. Within those emails, eight chains contained information that was "top secret" at the time they were sent, 36 had "secret" information and eight more had "confidential" information, the FBI director said.
Addressing emails which were either not provided to the FBI or were deleted before making it to investigators, Comey said there was no evidence of a cover-up.
Comey also said the FBI assessed that there was no direct evidence that Clinton's personal email domain was hacked. It is possible, however, that hostile actors gained access to her personal email account, he added.
He characterized the investigation findings as showing that Clinton and her team were "extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information" but he said there was no clear evidence they intended to violate the law.
Still, Comey said the FBI's recommendation is that Clinton not face criminal charges for her actions.
"Although there is evidence of potential violations regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case," he said.
Comey said decisions on whether or not to bring charges are partly based on "how similar situations have been handled in the past."
"In looking back into our investigations into the mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts," Comey said. "All the cases prosecuted 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."
Clinton's campaign celebrated the decision, saying in a statement from a spokesman that her team is "pleased that the career officials handling this case have determined that no further action by the Department is appropriate."
"As the Secretary has long said, it was a mistake to use her personal email and she would not do it again. We are glad that this matter is now resolved," her spokesman, Brian Fallon, added.
The FBI interviewed Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Clinton for 3 ½ hours on Saturday as part of the probe into her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, her campaign said.
The interview at FBI headquarters in Washington followed a week of intense public focus on the investigation and on Clinton's viability as a presidential candidate, with four months to go to the election. Her campaign has tried for months to downplay the controversy as a distraction.
In an interview broadcast on MSNBC, Clinton said she was happy to do the FBI interview, which her spokesman earlier described as "voluntary."
"I've been answering questions for over a year" regarding the private email server, Clinton said.
Clinton struck a positive tone about the email investigation whenquestioned about it by CNBC in March.
"I'm happy that everybody now has been cooperating and giving information because I think that will finally end this and show that only appropriate steps were taken," she said at the time.
Comey's Tuesday statement, however, highlighted the FBI's conclusion that many inappropriate steps were taken — even if they did not warrant criminal charges in the agency's view.
"I know that the Republicans were engaging in a lot of wishful thinking, but this is not anything people should be worried about," Clinton added in her interview with CNBC.
In general, Comey said investigators had found the State Department lacking in "the kind of care for classified information found elsewhere in the government."
The department disputed those claims, however, with a spokesman saying, "We don't share the broad assessment made of our institution that there's a lax culture here when it comes to protecting classified information. We take it very, very seriously."
Clinton is expected to be formally nominated as the Democratic candidate for the Nov. 8 presidential election at the party's convention in less than four weeks. The former secretary of state is currently the front-runner for the White House with polls showing her leading presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.
In a tweet Saturday, Trump said it was "impossible for the FBI not to recommend criminal charges against Hillary Clinton. What she did was wrong!"
And on Tuesday, Trump expressed his displeasure with the FBI's recommendation.