In a Houdini-like escape feat, Hillary Clinton will likely avoid a criminal indictment over her secret email server and allegations of mishandling classified information, even as the FBI confirmed Tuesday that she was “careless” and lied during the two-year investigation.
FBI Director James Comey, speaking at a news conference Tuesday, freed not only Clinton but also Attorney General Loretta Lynch — freeing the presumptive Democratic nominee from facing the prospect of the criminal charges, and Lynch from the consequences of her office making the decision to prosecute those charges.
Comey delivered a blistering review of Clintons conduct at the State Department, where she set up a private email server in the basement of her suburban New York home.
Comey said Tuesday that Clinton mishandled classified emails during her tenure as secretary of state but added that investigators found no evidence of intentional misconduct, obstruction of justice, or disloyalty to the United States.
“We cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges in this kind of case,” he said.
Comey’s decision means the Clinton campaign will limp on, hobbled by widespread perception that the former secretary of state is dishonest — but now without the catastrophic anvil of a criminal indictment hanging over her head.
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Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump blasted Comey’s decision.
“FBI director said Crooked Hillary compromised our national security,” he tweeted. “No charges. Wow! #RiggedSystem.”
Joseph diGenova, a former federal prosecutor, called Comey’s logic “cognitive dissonance” and disputed the FBI director’s contention that no reasonable prosecutor would seek charges under the circumstances.
“It’s a completely incomprehensible conclusion [from] the facts laid out,” he told LifeZette.
DiGenova said Comey described facts strong enough to support at least a misdemeanor charge requiring proof of gross negligence and then did an about-face when it came time to make a recommendation. He criticized Comey for walking away from the podium without taking questions from reporters.
“It is one of the most bizarre news conferences I’ve ever seen” he said.
After a roundly criticized private meeting with former president Bill Clinton, Lynch said she would follow the recommendation of career prosecutors in the Justice Department about whether to seek an indictment against Clinton over her handling of emails during her tenure at the State Department.
But Lynch almost certainly would have faced blowback regardless of the outcome. Comey’s pronouncement Tuesday — coming after FBI agents questioned Clinton on Saturday for 3.5 hours — spares her from that. It is unlikely career prosecutors would overrule Comey’s recommendation.
Although the FBI will not recommend criminal charges, Comey delivered a blistering review of Clinton’s conduct at the State Department, where she set up a private email server in the basement of her suburban New York home. He said investigators found no evidence that adversaries of the United States hacked her emails — but added that such evidence likely would not be evident. He also noted that Clinton’s use of personal email to conduct official business was known by many people and that she sent and received sensitive emails in territories of “sophisticated adversaries” of America.
“It is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal email account,” he said.
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Comey described the FBI’s probe in detail. He said agents found 110 emails in 52 chains that government agencies determined contained classified information at the time they were sent or received. Eight of those were “top secret,” another 36 were “secret,” and eight were “confidential.”
Federal agencies later “up-classified” an additional 2,000 emails that were not considered classified at the time they were sent or received.
Comey said the FBI tried to recover some 30,000 emails that Clinton deleted and found three more emails containing classified information.
While finding no indication of intentional misconduct by Clinton or her aides, Comey said, “There is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”
Seven email chains were related to the top-secret, special-access program, Comey said. He said Clinton sent and received emails about those matters.
“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,” he said.
Comey also punctured a Clinton talking point that none of the emails she sent or received were marked classified. Whether marked classified or not, Clinton and other government officials had a duty to protect the information contained in some of those exchanges.
“None of these emails should have been on any kind of unclassified system,” he said. “But their presence is especially concerning because all of these emails were housed on unclassified personal servers not even supported by full-time security staff like those found at agencies and departments of the United States government — or even with a commercial email service like Gmail.”