FBI Gives Clinton a Public Shaming — But No Charges — for Email Scandal

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FBI Director James Comey walks to the podium to make a statement at FBI Headquarters in Washington, Tuesday, July 5, 2016. Comey said the FBI will not recommend criminal charges in its investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while secretary of state. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
FBI Director James Comey.Photo: Cliff Owen/Cliff Owen

The FBI isn’t angry with Hillary Clinton, just disappointed. On Tuesday, the bureau’s director, James Comey, gave the presumptive Democratic nominee a lengthy scolding for her “extremely careless” handling of classified information during her time at the State Department — but argued that “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring charges in the matter.

In scouring the 30,000 emails Clinton returned to the State Department in 2014, the FBI identified 110 emails across 52 email chains that contained classified information “at the time they were sent or received.” Eight of those chains included information deemed “top secret.” Additionally, the FBI tracked down thousands of work-related emails that Clinton failed to turn over to the State Department. The bureau found “no evidence” that these additional emails “were intentionally deleted in an effort to conceal them.”

Our assessment is that, like many e-mail users, Secretary Clinton periodically deleted e-mails or e-mails were purged from the system when devices were changed,” Comey told reporters Tuesday. “Because she was not using a government account—or even a commercial account like Gmail—there was no archiving at all of her e-mails, so it is not surprising that we discovered e-mails that were not on Secretary Clinton’s system in 2014.”

Among the thousands of deleted emails, the FBI identified three containing classified intelligence.

Comey suggested that this mishandling of classified information may have had significant consequences. While the bureau could not confirm that Clinton’s personal email domain was successfully hacked, they believe it’s possible that it was.

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 e-mail extensively while outside the United States, including sending and receiving work-related e-mails in the territory of sophisticated adversaries,” Comey said. “Given that combination of factors, we assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal e-mail account.”

Thus, Comey argued that Clinton’s use of a private email server was “extremely careless”:

There is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information. For example, seven e-mail chains concern matters that were classified at the Top Secret/Special Access Program level when they were sent and received. There is evidence to support a conclusion that any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position, or in the position of those government employees with whom she was corresponding about these matters, should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation.

However, the bureau “did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information.” And this lack of nefarious intent led the FBI to conclude that a recommendation of criminal charges would be unreasonable.

In looking back at our investigations into mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts. All the cases prosecuted involved some combination of: clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information; or vast quantities of materials 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.

In sum, Comey provided GOP ad-makers with a bevvy of useful sound bites, while bringing the Clinton campaign’s least-favorite 2016 subplot to an anticlimactic end. If Donald Trump can resist the temptation to tweet an anti-Semitic meme for the next 24 hours, Clinton will endure a day of less-than-flattering headlines. But by the time the campaign hits its post-convention homestretch, the email scandal should be history.