WASHINGTON — The Federal Bureau of Investigation revealed results of its “painstaking” investigation into multiple private servers and devices used by Hillary Clinton as secretary of State — and has recommended to the Justice Department that charges not be brought against the presumptive Democratic nominee.
FBI Director James Comey acknowledged that there were emails containing top secret, secret and confidential information that were passed through Clinton’s server, but told reporters today that “we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges.”
Comey said he was taking the unusual step of publicly discussing the investigation and the agency’s recommendations to the Justice Department, which will now decide whether to prosecute Clinton or not, in the interest of transparency.
“I’m going to include more detail about our process than I ordinarily would because I think the American people deserve those details in a case of intense public interest,” the FBI director said at the outset of the announcement. “I have not coordinated this statement or reviewed it in any way with the Department of Justice or any other part of the government. They do not know what I am about to say.”
The investigation, he noted, began as a referral from the intelligence community’s inspector general with a focus on “whether classified information was transmitted on that personal system.”
“Our investigation looked at whether there is evidence that classified information was improperly stored or transmitted on that personal system in violation of a federal statute that makes 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,” Comey said.
“And consistent with our counterintelligence responsibilities, we have also investigated to determine if there is evidence of computer intrusion by nation-states or by hostile actors of any kind.”
The director stressed that Clinton “used several different servers and administrators of those server during her four years at the State Department and she also used numerous mobile devices to send and to read e-mail on that personal domain.”
“As new servers and equipment were employed, older servers were taken out of service, stored and decommissioned in various ways. Piecing all of that back together to gain as full an understanding as possible of the ways in which personal e-mail was used for government work has been a painstaking undertaking, requiring thousands of hours of effort,” he added, comparing it to dumping pieces of a jigsaw puzzle on the floor.
FBI investigators read all 30,000 emails Clinton provided to the State Department. When they encountered information of a questionable status, they referred the email to the pertinent agency that was “an owner of that information” to determine if it was classified at the time of transmission or if it should be classified now — also known as “up-classifying.”
Comey said of those emails handed over to the State Department, 110 emails in 52 email chains were determined to contain classified information at the time they were sent or received. Ranked from the highest to lowest level of classification, eight email chains contained top secret information, 36 contained secret info and eight contained confidential material.
In addition, 2,000 other emails were up-classified to make them confidential.
“The FBI also discovered several thousand work-related emails that were not among the group of 30,000 emails returned by Secretary Clinton to State in 2014,” Comey said. “We found those e-mails in a variety of ways. Some had been deleted over the years and we found traces of them on servers or devices that had been connected to the private e-mail domain. Others we found by reviewing the archived government accounts of people who had been government employees at the same time as Secretary Clinton, including high-ranking officials at other agencies, folks with whom a secretary of State might normally correspond. This helped us recover work-related e-mails that were not among the 30,000 that were produced to State. Still others we recovered from that painstaking review of the millions of e-mail fragments dumped into the slack space of the server that was decommissioned in 2013.”
Of that batch, three emails were classified at the time they were sent or received: one at the secret level and two at the confidential level.
“We found no evidence that any of the additional work-related e-mails were intentionally deleted in an effort to conceal them in some way. Our assessment is that like many e-mail users, Secretary Clinton periodically deleted emails or emails were purged from her system when devices were changed,” he added, noting that “because she was not using a government account or even a commercial account like Gmail, there was no archiving at all of her emails.”
Some could have been deleted as personal by her lawyers, he said, as that team did not individually read the content of all of her emails before deciding to submit or discard, yet relied on headers and search terms to find work-related content.
“It’s highly likely that their search missed some work-related emails and that we later found them, for example in the mailboxes of other officials or in the slack space of a server. It’s also likely that there are other work-related emails that they did not produced to State and that we did not find elsewhere, and that are now gone because they deleted all emails they did not produced to State, and the lawyers then cleaned their devices in such a way as to preclude complete forensic recovery,” Comey said.
“Although we don’t have complete visibility because we’re not able to fully reconstruct the electronic record of that sorting, we believe our investigation has been sufficient to give us reasonable confidence there was no intentional misconduct in connection with that sorting effort,” said Comey.
On the FBI’s “extensive work” to determine whether Clinton’s emails could have been compromised by hostile actors, the answer was maybe.
“Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of the classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information,” Comey continued. “…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 the matters should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation.”
“…None of these [classified] emails should have been on any kind of unclassified system. But their presence is especially concerning because all of the 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.”
Only “a very small number of the e-mails here containing classified information bore markings” that indicate classification, the FBI director said, but “even if information is not marked classified in an email, participants who know, or should know, that the subject matter is classified are still obligated to protect it.”
Comey added that investigators found the “culture” at the State Department was “generally lacking in the kind of care for classified information that is found elsewhere in the U.S. government.”
Comey said the FBI did not find “direct evidence” that Clinton’s personal email domain was “hacked successfully.”
“But given the nature of the system and of the actors potentially involved, we assess we would be unlikely to see such direct evidence,” he added. “We do assess that hostile actors gained access to the private commercial email 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 domain was both known by a large number of people and readily apparent.”
“She also used her personal email extensively while outside of the United States, including sending and receiving work-related emails 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 email account.”
Comey concluded that “although there is evidence of potential violation of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.”
Prosecutors will weigh things “like the strength of the evidence, especially regarding intent, responsible decisions, and to also consider the context of a person’s actions and how similar situations have been handled in the past — in looking back at our investigations, into the mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts.”
“All the cases prosecuted involve some combination of clearly intentional or willful mishandling of classified information or vast quantities of information exposed in such a way to support an inference of intentional misconduct or indications of disloyalty to the United States or an obstruction of justice. But we do not see those things here,” he added.
Instead, the consequences for Clinton-style mishandling of information “are often subject to security or administrative sanctions — but that is not what we are deciding now.”
So the FBI position stands: “No further charges are appropriate in this case.”
“I know there will be intense public debate in the wake of this recommendation as there was through this investigation. What I can assure the American people is that this investigation was done honestly, confidently, and independently. No outside influences of any kind was brought to bear,” Comey said. “I know there were many opinions from people who were not part of the investigation, including people in government but none of that mattered to us.”
The investigation was conducted in “an entirely apolitical and professional way,” he stressed.
Today’s announcement follows a three-and-a-half hour-long meeting Clinton had with FBI officials on Saturday.
Tweeted Clinton’s likely general election opponent, Donald Trump: “FBI director said Crooked Hillary compromised our national security. No charges. Wow! #RiggedSystem”