FBI Declines to Prosecute Hillary Clinton for Handling of Classified Emails

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Last week the director of the FBI announced the agency had concluded its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s suspicious email activity during her time as Secretary of State.  The FBI has declined to press charges against Mrs. Clinton, although noted that her behavior demonstrated an “extreme” carelessness with classified electronic documents.  Republicans in Congress expressed disappointment in the conclusion, and have announced they will continue to probe the matter as Mrs. Clinton gathers steam for the upcoming Presidential election.

FBI Investigates Hillary Clinton Email Activity

For the past year, FBI investigators have been investigating activity on Hillary Clinton’s personal email server for suspicious or reckless sharing of classified documents during her time as President Obama’s Secretary of State.  Clinton held the position from 2009 – 2013, and came under the FBI’s scrutiny after the Intelligence Community Inspector General notified the agency that she and her staffers may be sharing highly classified material to her personal unsecured email server. Mrs. Clinton could have faced felony charges for mishandling classified information had the FBI found evidence of misconduct, and given her current position as the Democratic nominee for President the investigation was closely watched by both sides of the political aisle.

In a full statement to the press, FBI Director James Comey explained the laborious process undertaken by investigators as they sought to track down any potential criminal mishandling of classified materials.  Comey’s statement explained that the agency received more than 30,000 email communications from Mrs. Clinton from her time as Secretary of State, and had to use other back channels and electronic investigatory techniques to track down several thousand deleted messages that the Democratic nominee may have sent.  Comey said that the FBI also interviewed several members of Clinton’s staff and the former Secretary herself in order to fully piece together the facts regarding her use of a private email server for classified documents.

During the course of its investigation, the FBI found 100 emails in 52 communication chains which contained classified information at some level.  Although Comey criticized the manner in which these emails were handled, he announced that the FBI declined to recommend charges against Hillary Clinton.

FBI Declines to Prosecute Hillary Clinton over Confidential Emails

After describing the details of the FBI’s year-long investigation of Hillary Clinton’s handling of confidential emails, Director Comey went on to express his dissatisfaction with the carelessness displayed by a Secretary of State entrusted with confidential information.  Stating that none of the classified emails identified during the investigation should have been on an unclassified system, Comey stated “there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”  Comey said that a reasonable person in Mrs. Clinton’s position should have been more aware of the sensitive nature of the materials, and criticized the former Secretary’s use of a personal email server for clearly marked classified documents.

Despite these findings, Comey announced that the FBI would not recommend prosecution. Comey cited a lack of substantial evidence to successfully prosecute by saying, “Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case … In looking back at our investigations into mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts. All the cases prosecuted involved some combination of: clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information; or vast quantities of materials exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct; or indications of disloyalty to the United States; or efforts to obstruct justice. We do not see those things here.”

Mrs. Clinton’s presumptive opponent for the Presidential race, Donald Trump, expressed his disagreement with the ruling, and Republicans in the House announced they were unsatisfied with the efforts and planned a continued investigation on their own.

House Continues Investigation into Clinton Email Usage

In the immediate wake of Comey’s announcement the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee announced that the FBI Director would be called to testify in front of the committee members.  The Oversight Committee responded to the FBI’s decision by writing, “The FBI’s recommendation is surprising and confusing. The fact pattern presented by Director Comey makes clear Secretary Clinton violated the law. Individuals who intentionally skirt the law must be held accountable.”

Comey testified before the Oversight Committee last week, but there has been little movement in the days since.  While Congress has the legal authority to conduct a review of the investigation and compel the publication of certain documents, it cannot force the FBI or the Justice Department to actually prosecute Mrs. Clinton – suggesting the Oversight Committee’s continued pursuit of the matter is largely an effort to keep the scandal in the public eye through the upcoming election.   This course of action is the only one available to Clinton opponents after the FBI declined to tip the election scales by initiating a prosecution with the facts available during such a critical juncture.





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