When she was Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton and her staff were “extremely careless” in their handling of private emails that contained classified information, but they weren’t criminal.
That’s according to FBI Director James Comey, who said today that the carelessness did not rise to the level of intentional misconduct, and for that reason he will not recommend that the Justice Department bring charges against the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
The announcement drew an immediate reaction from presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who called the system “rigged” in Clinton’s favor. “General Petraeus got in trouble for far less. Very very unfair! As usual, bad judgment,” he tweeted.
Comey explained in a morning press conference that the investigation is related to Clinton’s use of several private email servers, one located in Colorado.
The investigation focused on whether classified information was improperly stored or transmitted on the private email system. Comey explained that it is a felony to mishandle classified information “either intentionally or in a grossly negligent way,” and a misdemeanor to “knowingly remove classified information from appropriate systems or storage facilities.”
Comey explained that Clinton used several different servers as well as mobile devices to view and send email through those servers, including during travels outside the United States.
The FBI reviewed 30,000 emails in its investigation. The investigation found 110 emails in 52 “chains” — multiple emails on a single subject — that were determined to contain classified information at the time sent or received. Eight of the chains contained information that was “Top Secret” at the time they were sent. Another 36 had “Secret” information, and eight had “Confidential” information, the lowest level of classification. Another 2,000 emails were “Classified”, meaning at the time they were sent the information was not classified but was made confidential later on.
“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 evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information,” Comey said.
Comey pointed to seven email chains classified as Top Secret that “a reasonable person” in Clinton’s position should have known not to send, knowing that an unclassified system “was no place for that conversations.” The presence of these emails on an unclassified system was concerning because those systems were not supported by full-time security staff, like those found at agencies of the federal government, Comey said.
But Comey also pointed out that only “a very small number” of the emails bore markings that indicated they contained classified information.
Comey also reported that the State Department’s security culture was “generally lacking in the kind of care for classified information” found elsewhere in the federal government.
The investigation also looked at whether hackers had access to the personal email server.
Comey said the FBI found no direct evidence of hacking, but the FBI also believes they would be unlikely to see such direct evidence. The agency does believe hackers gained access to the private email accounts of people with whom Clinton was in contact from her personal account. And a large number of people knew about her use of a personal email domain, Comey said. Clinton also used the personal account extensively while traveling outside the United States, and the FBI believes it was possible that hackers gained access at that time to her account.
Comey said the FBI will not recommend the Justice Department pursue criminal charges against Clinton.
“No reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case,” Comey said. The FBI reviewed previous investigations into mishandling of classified information, and those previous cases involved willful mishandling or classified information or vast quantities of materials, for example. “We do not see these things here,” Comey said.
Comey is a former deputy attorney general in the George W. Bush administration and was appointed head of the FBI by President Obama in 2013.
Clinton was not immediately available for comment; she is in North Carolina today with President Obama at a campaign stop.
Photo credit: J M, Creative Commons, Flickr