The good news for Hillary Clinton is that FBI Director James B. Comey is not recommending a criminal indictment. This comes as little surprise to me, or to Clinton if she was being honest in her predictions. The bad news is that the FBI investigation confirmed that Clinton has been lying on several key points and, as Chris Cillizza wrote, Hillary Clinton’s email problems might be even worse than we thought.
It’s hard to read Comey’s statement as anything other than a wholesale rebuke of the story Clinton and her campaign team have been telling ever since the existence of her private email server came to light in spring 2015. She did send and receive classified emails. The setup did leave her — and the classified information on the server — subject to a possible foreign hack. She and her team did delete emails as personal that contained professional information…
For a candidate already badly struggling on questions of whether she is honest and trustworthy enough to hold the office to which she aspires, Comey’s comments are devastating. Watching them, I could close my eyes and imagine them spliced into a bevy of 30-second ads — all of which end with the FBI director rebuking Clinton as “extremely careless.”
…Still, all things considered, this is a very bad day for the Clinton campaign. It’s not the worst outcome (indictment), but it badly disrupts her attempts to move beyond the email server story as she seeks to unite the party in advance of the Democratic convention later this month. And it suggests the email issue will haunt her all the way through Election Day on Nov. 8.
Comey stated that Clinton and her colleagues were “extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.” He went on to say:
For example, seven e-mail chains concern matters that were classified at the Top Secret/Special Access Program level when they were sent and received. These chains involved Secretary Clinton both sending e-mails about those matters and receiving e-mails from others about the same matters. There is evidence to support a 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. In addition to this highly sensitive information, we also found information that was properly classified as Secret by the U.S. Intelligence Community at the time it was discussed on e-mail (that is, excluding the later “up-classified” e-mails).
None of these e-mails should have been on any kind of unclassified system, but their presence is especially concerning because all of these e-mails were housed on unclassified personal servers not even supported by full-time security staff, like those found at Departments and Agencies of the U.S. Government—or even with a commercial service like Gmail.
His statement contradicted previous statements from Clinton that there was no classified email on her system and that she had only destroyed email which was not work-related:
From the group of 30,000 e-mails returned to the State Department, 110 e-mails in 52 e-mail chains have been determined by the owning agency to contain classified information at the time they were sent or received. Eight of those chains contained information that was Top Secret at the time they were sent; 36 chains contained Secret information at the time; and eight contained Confidential information, which is the lowest level of classification. Separate from those, about 2,000 additional e-mails were “up-classified” to make them Confidential; the information in those had not been classified at the time the e-mails were sent.
The FBI also discovered several thousand work-related e-mails that were not in the group of 30,000 that were returned by Secretary Clinton to State in 2014. We found those additional e-mails in a variety of ways. Some had been deleted over the years and we found traces of them on devices that supported or were connected to the private e-mail domain. Others we found by reviewing the archived government e-mail accounts of people who had been government employees at the same time as Secretary Clinton, including high-ranking officials at other agencies, people with whom a Secretary of State might naturally correspond.
Comey also stated that Clinton “used several different servers” and “used numerous mobile devices to view and send email,” contradicting her claims to have used one device for convenience.
An AP Factcheck noted that the report showed that the FBI investigation contradicts several past statements from Clinton:
“I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email. There is no classified material.” News conference, March 2015.
“I never received nor sent any material that was marked classified.” NBC interview, July 2016.
“I responded right away and provided all my emails that could possibly be work related” to the State Department. News conference, March 2015
“I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for personal emails instead of two.” News conference, March 2015.”It was on property guarded by the Secret Service, and there were no security breaches. … The use of that server, which started with my husband, certainly proved to be effective and secure.” News conference, March 2015.
CLINTON campaign website: “There is no evidence there was ever a breach.”
“I opted for convenience to use my personal email account, which was allowed by the State Department.” News conference, March 2015.
The mishandling of classified information has always been a sidelight of the overall scandal based upon Clinton’s violation of rules regarding government transparency. The Sunlight Foundation noted, As FBI concludes Clinton email investigation, larger questions linger. Here is the first of five question they raise:
Can the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) be protected from intentional obfuscation, especially by those with the most power?
The available evidence suggests that Clinton intentionally tried to control whether email was exposed to discovery under FOIA. Today’s recommendations from the FBI reinforce a sense that trying to evade FOIA is wrong but isn’t illegal, weakening the idea that records should be managed in a way that upholds public access. More recent legal reforms requiring official email use are important, but ultimately incidental to the more fundamental question: Do we expect public officials to conduct their work in a manner that is generally accessible to the FOIA and to congressional oversight? How can such an expectation be enforced?
The FBI report comes shortly after a report from the State Department Inspector General which showed that Clinton knowingly violated the rules in effect, failed to cooperate with the investigation, and tried to cover-up her actions.
While there were previously rumors that the FBI was also investigating apparent influence-peddling while at the State Department, Comey’s report did not give any indication that this was a subject of their investigation. I discussed this subject yesterday.
All this might not matter with Clinton probably running against a candidate as weak as Donald Trump. A NBC News/Survey Monkey poll showed that Clinton would have a much more difficult time if running against a different candidate. Regardless of the the political impact of these reports, it is hardly reassuring to find that the front runner to be the next president was careless in handling classified information and has been lying to the American people regarding this for over a year.