In a televised press conference on Monday, James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), announced that his department had completed its investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and, despite castigating her “extreme carelessness,” recommended that the Department of Justice (DOJ) file no charges against the presidential hopeful.
Comey described a “painstaking” effort taking thousands of hours to review the 30,000 emails provided by the former secretary of state, as well as “several thousand” additional pieces of correspondence unearthed over the course of the probe.
Of the 30,000 provided to the State Department, the FBI determined that a total of 110 emails in 52 chains contained classified information at the time they were sent or received. Eight of those chains contained “Top-Secret” information, the highest classification, while 36 had “Secret” information, and another eight contained “Sensitive” information.
Roughly 2,000 additional emails were later “up-classified” by relevant departments, though they had not been classified at the time they were sent.
Of the thousands of work-related emails not contained in the Clinton email dump, Comey said that “three of those were classified at the time they were sent or received, one at the ‘Secret’ level, and two at the ‘Confidential’ level.”
He did note, however, that the FBI “found no evidence that any of the additional work-related e-mails were intentionally deleted in an effort to conceal them.”
“Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information,” Comey continued, “there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”
Further, he stated: “There is evidence to support a conclusion that any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position or in the position of those with whom she was corresponding about those matters should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation.”
What’s more, though the investigation “did not find direct evidence” that Secretary Clinton’s personal e-mail was successfully hacked, the FBI determined that it was possible that “hostile actors” gained access to the account.
We do assess that hostile actors gained access to the private commercial e-mail 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 e-mail extensively while outside the United States, including sending and receiving work-related e-mails 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 e-mail account.
As Comey explained, the investigation specifically sought to assess “whether there is evidence classified information was improperly stored or transmitted on that personal system, in violation of a federal statute making it a felony to mishandle classified information either intentionally or in a grossly negligent way, or a second statute making it a misdemeanor to knowingly remove classified information from appropriate systems or storage facilities.”
Yet, despite the findings, the FBI concluded with the recommendation that the DOJ abstain from charging Clinton.
“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,” said Comey, as he explained the thinking behind that determination:
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.
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 is not what we are deciding now.
The announcement comes just weeks before the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, during which Clinton is expected to be nominated to lead the party in the 2016 presidential election this November.
As Comey acknowledged in his conclusion, “there will be intense public debate in the wake of this recommendation.”
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