WASHINGTON — The FBI recommended Tuesday that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton should not face criminal charges over her use of a private email server as secretary of State, even though she and aides were “extremely careless” in handling classified information.
While FBI Director James Comey criticized Clinton and her aides for carelessly handling classified, top-secret information, he said there is no evidence she intended to do so, the basis for criminal charges.
Cliff Owen, AP
FBI Director James Comey makes a statement at FBI headquarters in Washington on July 5, 2016.
“Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information,” Comey said in a 15-minute statement explaining the investigation, “our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.”
Comey said his agency acted apolitically and went where the facts took them. While, technically, the FBI makes recommendations to Justice Department prosecutors over potential charges, Attorney General Loretta Lynch has said she would accept the bureau’s views in this case.
“In looking back at our investigations into mishandling of removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts,” Comey said.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump criticized the FBI’s decision, tweeting that “the system is rigged” and citing charges brought against Gen. David Petraeus over handling of classified information.
“General Petraeus got in trouble for far less,” Trump said. “Very very unfair! As usual, bad judgment.”
In another tweet, Trump noted that the FBI director “said Crooked Hillary compromised our national security. No charges. Wow.”
The Clinton campaign said it was pleased with the decision made by “career officials” at the FBI.
“As the Secretary has long said, it was a mistake to use her personal email and she would not do it again,” said Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon. “We are glad that this matter is now resolved.”
Clinton, who campaigns later in the day with President Obama in North Carolina, did not address Comey’s statement or the FBI’s findings during a morning speech at the National Education Association in Washington.
Comey, meanwhile, took Clinton and State Department officials to task for their procedures in handling sensitive information.
“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,” he said.
Comey said that, of the 30,000 or so Clinton emails provided by the State Department, 110 messages in 52 email chains were determined to have contained classified information at the time they were sent or received.
Eight of those email chains contained information that was top secret at the time they were sent or received, the FBI reported; 36 of the email chains contained secret information at the time; and eight contained lesser confidential information.
Part of the investigation dealt with whether foreign adversaries tried to hack Clinton’s private email system, Comey said. In recent years, the Chinese and Russian governments are among those who have been accused of prying into American secrets.
It is possible that “hostile actors” were able to access Clinton’s personal email account, Comey said, but there was no “direct evidence.”
Comey said the evidence supports the 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.”
David Axelrod, long-time political adviser to President Obama, said Clinton’s email was “ill-conceived and reckless,” but “no indictment and no indication of criminal intent is an important line of demarcation.”
The issue will remain political, he added.
Citing Comey’s “rebuke,” Axelrod said “the Republicans will use it as a cudgel.”
The case is now “part of the record voters will consider,” Axelrod said. “But the conclusion lifts the cloud of indictment no candidacy could have sustained.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., meanwhile, said the FBI decision “defies explanation,” and could undermine the rule of law.
“No one should be above the law,” Ryan said.
The FBI director’s previously unannounced statement came three days after FBI agents interviewed Clinton about her use of private email while secretary of State.
After the Saturday interview, Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill said the former secretary of State was “pleased to have had the opportunity to assist the Department of Justice in bringing this review to a conclusion.”
For months, Trump had predicted that Clinton would not face charges, claiming the Justice Department investigation has been “rigged” in her favor.
Trump and other Republicans protested a recent meeting between Lynch and former president Bill Clinton, the candidate’s husband. The two said they discussed personal matters, not the investigation.
Comey spoke just hours before Clinton campaigns in Charlotte along with Obama, their first joint political appearance of the year.