Hillary Clinton’s emails: explaining the FBI findings and their potential fallout

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Director James Comey has reported that the former secretary of states actions were careless but not criminal prompting a divided response


What did the FBI do?

Hillary Clintons unorthodox email practices came to light after a request by the House select committee on Benghazi for correspondence between her and officials relating to the deadly 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Lawyers for the state department found that Clinton had used a personal address for her email and routed the messages through servers set up in her home in Chappaqua, New York.

The FBI became involved after a referral from the intelligence communitys inspector general to the Department of Justice in July 2015. This was prompted by concern over the compromise of sensitive information. The FBIs investigation has involved thousands of hours of effort and dozens of interviews, culminating in one with Clinton herself last Saturday.

A recent, separate report by the state department inspector general found that Clinton broke multiple rules despite warnings to use official communications methods to ensure her emails were stored and kept safe from hackers.

What did investigators find?

Of 30,000 of Clintons emails, 110 emails in 52 chains contained classified information when they were sent or received. This contradicts statements she has made over the past year, including in a July interview, when she said: I never received nor sent any material that was marked classified.

Eight of the 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. About 2,000 additional emails were up-classified to make them confidential; the information in those had not been classified at the time the emails were sent.

The FBI director, James Comey, also said Clintons lawyers had deleted emails they marked as personal but contained work-related content, and while investigators had been able to track down some of those messages, it was certainly possible that more existed.

He added that Clinton used several different servers and numerous mobile devices during her four years as secretary of state. Comeys statement and the state department report both found several of Clintons defenses wrong or lacking. Despite assertions by the Clinton campaign, the email practices broke state department rules, did put classified information at risk, only one of her predecessors used private email and he did not have a private server, and the investigation did include a search for criminal conduct.

What were the FBIs conclusions?

Careless but not criminal. Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, Comey said, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.

He gave the example of seven email chains concerning matters that were classified at the top secret programme level when they were sent and received. Clinton or someone in her position should have known that an unclassified system was inappropriate for such a conversation. The FBI said it also found information classified as secret at the time it was discussed on email.

Clinton has always claimed that none of the messages were marked classified at the time, but Comey rejected this argument.

Only a very small number of the emails containing classified information bore markings indicating the presence of classified information, he 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.

The FBI did not find direct evidence that Clintons email had been hacked but said she used her personal email extensively while outside the US, 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 Clintons personal email account, Comey said.

Despite this potentially damaging point, the FBI found no intentional misconduct and recommended no criminal charges to the justice department. Our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case, Comey said.

What might happen next with prosecutors?

This is not quite the end of the saga. The FBIs findings will now be passed to the justice department. However, it seems almost certain that the department will accept the report, despite political pressure from Republicans.

Comey admitted that the FBI did not normally make public its recommendations to prosecutors but, in this case, unusual transparency is in order. The attorney general, Loretta Lynch, criticised for meeting Clintons husband, the former president Bill Clinton, at an airport last week, has said she will accept recommendations from prosecutors and FBI agents leading the investigation.

What will the political fallout be?

Clinton won in the legal arena but could yet lose in the court of public opinion. The immediate response broke down along predictably partisan lines.

Her supporters contend that Clinton herself has admitted she made a mistake and this should end the affair. We are glad that this matter is now resolved, her campaign spokesperson Brian Fallon said.

Democrats will say this is a vindication and allows Clintons coronation to go ahead at the party convention, although her rival Bernie Sanders has already said he will not drop out of the race. Some analysts had predicted that, if Clinton had been indicted and forced to withdraw, the party would have turned to vice-president Joe Biden.

Clinton is due to appear with Barack Obama on the campaign trail on Tuesday, sending a message of business as usual.

But Republicans were given enough ammunition by the FBI report to keep the issue alive and emphasise the issue of trust until election day. The partys presumptive nominee, Donald Trump, who has branded his rival Crooked Hillary, is likely to keep bringing it up during campaign speeches.

In a tweet, he compared the case to that of retired general David Petraeus, former director of the CIA, who was sentenced to twoyears probation after he shared classified information with his biographer, with whom he was having an affair. . The system is rigged. General Petraeus got in trouble for far less. Very very unfair! As usual, bad judgment.

Paul Ryan, the House speaker, also denounced the decision not to prosecute Clintons conduct. No one should be above the law. But based upon the directors own statement, it appears damage is being done to the rule of law, he said.

Declining to prosecute Secretary Clinton for recklessly mishandling and transmitting national security information will set a terrible precedent. The findings of this investigation also make clear that Secretary Clinton misled the American people when she was confronted with her criminal actions.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jul/05/hillary-clinton-emails-fbi-investigation-next-steps