By Julian Hattem
FBI Director James Comey announced Tuesday that he would not recommend criminal charges against Hillary Clinton for mishandling government secrets, clearing the way for her to be crowned as the Democratic Party’s nominee for president later this month.
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Comey said the evidence showed Clinton had been “extremely careless” in handling classified emails over a private server, but that it was not enough to merit an indictment.
“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 told reporters in a dramatic announcement at the FBI’s headquarters in Washington.
“We are expressing to Justice our view that no charges are appropriate in this case,” he added.
If Comey’s decision was not entirely surprising, the timing — coming hours before Clinton’s first joint appearance with President Obama — was a shocker.
The political world has been awaiting the FBI’s judgment of Clinton for months, wondering if a surprise indictment could block her path to the nomination and suddenly open the door to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) or Vice President Biden.
Instead, Comey ended the FBI’s investigation days after Clinton was interviewed by investigators at her Washington home, and about a week after Attorney General Loretta Lynch made headlines by meeting former President Bill Clinton on the tarmac.
While the decision ends talk of an indictment, Comey gave new ammunition to Clinton critics in scathing criticism of her set-up.
A total of 113 emails from Clinton’s machine contained information that was classified at the time it was sent or received, Comey claimed, undercutting a claim from Clinton that the messages were only upgraded after the fact. Another roughly 2,000 emails were classified later.
The FBI’s investigation also found that “a very small” number of them “bore markings indicating the presence of classified information,” wrecking her claims at ignorance about the sensitive nature of the material in her inbox.
And three of the classified emails were found among the “several thousand” work-related email messages recovered from the approximately 30,000 Clinton deleted in 2014. The former secretary of State had claimed the deleted emails were purely personal in nature and didn’t belong in the government’s hands.
In what may be the one positive detail for the former secretary of State’s presidential campaign, Comey asserted that there was no evidence to support allegations that Clinton’s team had “intentionally deleted” the additional work-related messages “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, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information,” Comey said.
The FBI chief also said that he could not rule out the possibility that Clinton’s server had been hacked in to, despite failing to find any evidence of a cyber instruction.
The bureau’s decision not to recommend charges upset Republicans, who have long claimed that Clinton’s email arrangement jeopardized national security.
Clinton’s presumptive GOP presidential opponent, Donald Trump, connected Tuesday’s announcement from the FBI to the Clinton’s campaign rally with Obama later in the day as well as the Lynch-Bill Clinton meeting.
“It was no accident that charges were not recommended against Hillary the exact same day as President Obama campaigns with her for the first time,” Trump said in a statement.
“Folks – the system is rigged,” he added. “The final jury will be the American people, and they will issue the verdict on her corruption, incompetence, and bad judgment on November 8th.”
Neither Obama nor Clinton mentioned the announcement during their hour-long rally in North Carolina.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said the news “defies explanation,” while Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who oversees the FBI as head of the House Judiciary Committee, told Comey in a letter that his announcement “raises many questions” and demanded additional information.
“Little solace is found in your detailed breakdown of the FBI’s findings that Secretary Clinton acted ‘extremely careless’ in mishandling classified information,” Goodlatte wrote to Comey.
“I find the timing and manner of your announcement uniquely troubling in light of last week’s secret meeting between Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former President Bill Clinton.”
Comey attempted to dismiss allegations of political meddling, claiming that no one outside his bureau was aware of his announcement before it was delivered on Tuesday morning.
Yet the decision nonetheless seems likely to haunt Comey, a Republican whose 10-year term does not end until 2023. Multiple Republicans had sung the FBI director’s praises in the weeks ahead of Tuesday’s announcement, but those warm feelings might begin to erode if they feel he succumbed to political pressure.
While declining to support an indictment on Tuesday, Comey asserted that Clinton’s email setup was nonetheless evidence of a troubling lack of concern about protecting national secrets.
Someone of the stature of Clinton or her senior aides, he said, “should have known” that the system carried security risks.
“To be clear, this is not to suggest that in similar circumstances, a person who engaged in this activity would face no consequences,” Comey warned. “To the contrary, those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions.”
“But that is not what we are deciding now.”
Spokesman John Kirby told reporters that the State Department would decline to consider administrative punishments for any current staffers until the Justice Department formally closes its review.
Comey’s remarks also appeared to raise the question of whether Clinton’s aides could be denied security clearances if she won the White House this November.
“This sort of irresponsibility can directly jeopardize U.S. national security and put people’s lives at risk,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon.
“I hope the irresponsible handling of classified information documented by the FBI will be considered if any of these individuals currently possesses a security clearance or applies for one in the future.”
SOURCE: The Hill