FBI Chief Rejects Republican Attacks on His Clinton Decision

Updated on
  • Comey reiterates ‘no reasonable prosecutor’ would seek charges
  • Committee chairman says ‘average Joe’ would be in handcuffs

James Comey is sworn-in before a hearing on July 7. Photographer: Yuri Gripas/AFP via Getty Images

FBI Director James Comey defended his recommendation against pursuing criminal charges for Hillary Clinton over her use of private e-mail while secretary of state, testifying before Congress as he faced an onslaught of criticism from Republicans.

“The appropriate resolution of this case was not to bring a criminal prosecution,” Comey told the House Oversight Committee Thursday at a hastily called hearing in Washington. “I know the Department of Justice, and I know no reasonable prosecutor would bring this case."

Comey’s testimony over almost five hours marked the latest turn in a dispute that continues to cast a pall over Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. While embracing the FBI director’s criticism of Clinton for her careless handling of sensitive official information, Republicans have moved on many fronts to challenge his July 5 recommendation against seeking charges.

At the start of the hearing, Republican Chairman Jason Chaffetz said he was “mystified and confused by the fact pattern that you laid out and the conclusion that you reached.”

“It seems to a lot of us that the average Joe, the average American, that if they had done what you laid out in your statement that they’d be in handcuffs and they might be on their way to jail and they probably should,” Chaffetz of Utah said. There are two standards, he said, with different treatment “if your name isn’t Clinton or you’re not part of the powerful elite.”

After Comey’s testimony, Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon said it “clearly knocked down a number of false Republican talking points and reconciled apparent contradictions between his previous remarks and Hillary Clinton’s public statements.”

“The director’s explanations shut the door on any remaining conspiracy theories once and for all,” Fallon said in an e-mailed statement. “While Republicans may try to keep this issue alive, this hearing proved those efforts will only backfire."

Comey told the committee it’s“not true” that a separate standard was applied to Clinton or that politics tainted the inquiry. The FBI chief, who has been a registered Republican in the past but said Thursday that’s no longer the case, said the investigation was conducted by people who didn’t “give a hoot about politics” and performed their work in “an apolitical and professional way.”

‘Went at This’

“We went at this very hard to see if we could make a case,” he said.

Pressed by Chaffetz, Comey said of Clinton, “We have no basis to conclude she lied to the FBI.” He added later that the FBI didn’t find her evasive in 3 1/2 hours of questioning over the weekend.

Clinton was interviewed by five or six agents but not him and wasn’t put under oath, Comey said. Chaffetz said lawmakers will ask the FBI to investigate whether Clinton lied to Congress when she testified about her e-mail practices.

Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the panel’s top Democrat, called the hearing politically motivated and another instance of Republicans using taxpayer funds to revisit an issue that’s already been resolved.

Related story: Comey Found Clinton’s No Petraeus

“Amazingly, some Republicans who were praising you just days ago for your independence and integrity and honesty, instantly turned against you,” Cummings said. “In their eyes, you had one job and one job only -- to prosecute Hillary Clinton.”

Lynch Announcement

Comey announced July 5 that an almost yearlong investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation found Clinton and her staff at the State Department were “extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.” But he also said that “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring charges in the case, and Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced on Wednesday that no charges will “be brought against any individuals within the scope of the investigation.”

For a QuickTake Q&A on the e-mail dispute, click here.

In his testimony, Comey said the case of retired General David Petraeus “illustrates the distinction” from the Clinton investigation. He said the former CIA director and leader of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan lied to investigators and knew he was violating the law, unlike Clinton.

Petraeus, who handed over classified documents to Paula Broadwell, his biographer and lover, pleaded guilty last year to removing and retaining classified information. He was sentenced to two years’ probation and fined $100,000.

Representative Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York, asked Comey if he had made his decision based on a bribe. He replied no.

Trump on ‘Bribery’

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has said “it’s bribery,” suggesting that Lynch let Clinton off the hook in a deal to keep her job as attorney general if the Democrat wins the November election.

Among other Republicans, House Speaker Paul Ryan has said Clinton should be denied the national security briefings that presidential nominees normally receive and he hasn’t ruled out seeking a special prosecutor to investigate further.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has demanded public release of Clinton’s interview with the FBI. The Republican National Committee said it has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for several thousand previously undisclosed work-related e-mails that Comey said the FBI found.

Clinton’s campaign has called the issue settled, with spokesman Brian Fallon saying “this matter is now resolved.” Clinton has previously said she did nothing wrong in using private e-mail but now regrets doing so.

Gmail More Secure

In his testimony, Comey said unsuccessful attempts were made to break into Clinton’s e-mail system. He declined to say where the hackers originated but said the attempts weren’t limited to criminal activity, suggesting that the attempts came from other governments for the purpose of espionage.

Comey added that the private e-mail server used by Clinton was even less secure than a popular free e-mail service, saying Google’s “Gmail has full-time security.”

The FBI found that of the more than 30,000 e-mails turned over by Clinton, some 110 e-mails spanning 52 chains contained information that was classified at the time it was sent. Of those chains, eight contained information classified at the Top Secret level.

Comey said in announcing his findings that the bureau also discovered “several thousand” work-related e-mails that weren’t turned over by Clinton’s lawyers. Those messages, discovered by searching through a computer she used as a server and scanning the archives of other U.S. officials, included an additional three containing classified material.

While the FBI “did not find direct evidence” that Clinton’s e-mail system was hacked successfully, Comey said in his findings, “we do assess that hostile actors gained access to the private commercial e-mail accounts of people with whom Secretary Clinton was in regular contact from her personal account."

— With assistance by Justin Sink, Steven T. Dennis, and Andrew M Harris

(Updates with Clinton campaign’s comments starting in sixth paragraph.)
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