Comey said that investigators looked through tens of thousands of emails and found dozens with information that was deemed classified when they were sent.
“From the group of 30,000 emails returned to the State Department, 110 emails in 52 email chains have been determined by the owning agency to contain classified information at the time they were sent or received,” Comey said, according to his prepared remarks. “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.”
Comey also said that among thousands of emails investigators found that were not turned over by Clinton’s lawyers (more on that in a moment), three of them were classified when they were sent — one at the “Secret” level, and two at the “Confidential” level.
Though Comey said that “only a very small number” of the emails containing classified information were marked to note that fact, he added that even without the marking, people “who know or should know that the subject matter is classified are still obligated to protect it.”
In addition, Comey also said another 2,000 emails investigators reviewed were “up-classified” to become confidential. That means the information in these emails was not classified when it was sent, but some agency later changed that classification.
2. “Several thousand work-related emails” were not among those Clinton returned to the State Department
However, Comey said that investigators “discovered several thousand work-related emails that were not in the group of 30,000 that were returned by Secretary Clinton to State in 2014.”
Comey outlined how the FBI wound up finding these emails, describing a painstaking process that involved using everything from archived government accounts to looking through different severs.
“We found those additional emails in a variety of ways,” Comey said. “Some had been deleted over the years and we found traces of them on devices that supported or were connected to the private email domain. Others we found by reviewing the archived government email 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. This helped us recover work-related emails that were not among the 30,000 produced to State.”
Comey said that agents “found no evidence” that any of the emails not among the 30,000 returned in 2014 were deleted as a way to hide them, but he also said it was not a surprise to learn many emails were found outside of that batch.
“Our assessment is that, like many email users, Secretary Clinton periodically deleted emails or emails were purged from the system when devices were changed,” Comey said. “Because she was not using a government account — or even a commercial account like Gmail — there was no archiving at all of her emails, so it is not surprising that we discovered emails that were not on Secretary Clinton’s system in 2014, when she produced the 30,000 e-mails to the State Department.”
3. Clinton sent and received work-related emails while “in the territory of sophisticated adversaries” — and it’s possible, while not proven, her emails were hacked
When it came to the question of whether Clinton’s emails were hacked “by hostile actors,” Comey carefully explained why the FBI thinks it is possible this happened even though investigators found no definitive proof.
Investigators found no “direct evidence” that Clinton’s email was hacked over the years, Comey said. But he added that given her setup and the people or groups that would try to access her email, it’s “unlikely” the FBI would even be able to see such evidence.
Clinton “used her personal email extensively while outside the United States, including sending and receiving work-related emails in the territory of sophisticated adversaries,” Comey said. And he said the FBI determined 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.”
So while the FBI was not able to find evidence, Comey said that given those factors, “we assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal email account.”
4. Clinton “used several different servers” and “numerous mobile devices”
Comey said that it was “a painstaking undertaking” for the bureau to piece together how Clinton used her personal email server, comparing the effort to trying to solve a large jigsaw puzzle.
According to Comey, Clinton “used several different servers and administrators of those servers” during her time as secretary of state. She also utilized “numerous mobile devices” to access those servers, he said.
When new servers were used, the old ones “were taken out of service, stored and decommissioned in various ways,” Comey said. One server was decommissioned in 2013, he said, and while the email software was removed, the email content remained there, leaving what Comey called “millions of email fragments” in the server’s “slack space.” (It was in this “slack space” that investigators found some of the emails not among the 30,000 given to the State Department in 2014, he said.)
5. No intent to violate the law, just “extremely careless” behavior
The FBI did not uncover “clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information,” Comey said. But he said investigators determined that Clinton and the others exchanging these messages “were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”
While Comey ultimately said that the facts uncovered in the investigation did not warrant bringing criminal charges, he still offered sharp criticism for the way the emails were exchanged.
Comey said there was evidence that “any reasonable person” in Clinton’s position — or the position of the people exchanging the “top secret” emails with her — “should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation.”
He also said it was concerning that information classified as “secret” was being discussed on an email server without the security found at federal agencies or even “a commercial service like Gmail.”
6. The FBI says the “security culture of the State Department” is “lacking”
Comey said that the State Department’s treatment of security issues was not the focus of the FBI’s investigation here, but he offered sharp words for that agency.
“The security culture of the State Department in general, and with respect to use of unclassified email systems in particular, was generally lacking in the kind of care for classified information found elsewhere in the government,” he said.