FBI Director James B. Comey said in a memo to the bureau’s employees that the decision not to charge Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server while secretary of state was “not a cliff-hanger” and, “despite all the chest beating by people no longer in government, there really wasn’t a prosecutable case.”
The director’s assessment was notable for its bluntness, though its assertions were not new. When Comey announced in July that he was not recommending charges for Clinton or her aides, he said no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case. He did, however, say that Clinton and her aides were careless in their handling of classified information, which Republicans in Congress have seized upon to question his conclusion and push for more information on his agents’ investigation.
The memo was previously reported and posted by CNN and ABC News on Wednesday. The FBI declined to release a copy publicly. A person familiar with its contents confirmed that what CNN had posted appeared to be authentic.
Comey seemed to take aim both at those outside the bureau who questioned his conclusion that Clinton not be charged and at Republican legislators who have been critical of how he has made information about the probe public. Comey testified about the investigation for nearly five hours on Capitol Hill and later turned over documents — including an investigative report and summaries of several witness interviews — for review only by congressional committees. The bureau later made a report on the case public, along with the summary of agents’ interview with Clinton.
Rather than quieting critics, though, the document releases only served to fuel criticism. Republican legislators first complained that the materials were turned over to them in such a way that they could be reviewed only in a secure area by staffers with appropriate clearances, even though many of the documents were unclassified. And when a small fraction of the documents were made public Friday, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said it was not a good example of transparency.
“Well, a Friday afternoon release of incomplete records ahead of a three-day weekend is hardly my idea of transparency — especially considering the FBI has limited congressional investigators’ access to unclassified information,” Grassley said in a statement. “Today’s selective release of portions of the FBI’s findings is exactly the sort of thing Secretary Clinton’s own advocates warned against when calling for full disclosure. It provides an incomplete and possibly misleading picture of the facts without the other unclassified information that is still locked away from the public and even most congressional staff. That’s not fair to the American people, Congress or Secretary Clinton.”
In his memo, Comey said the way the documents were turned over to Congress “permitted them to be reviewed by a number of committees with jurisdiction, instead of requiring that committee staff come to FBI headquarters to review the documents as we would normally require.” He said the bureau redacted personal information and certain classified portions, but that the release was still “unprecedented.”
As for the wider, public release on the Friday before Labor Day, Comey said: “I almost ordered the material held until Tuesday because I knew we would take all kinds of grief for releasing it before a holiday weekend, but my judgment was that we had promised transparency and it would be game-playing to withhold it from the public just to avoid folks saying stuff about us. We don’t play games.” He said the bureau would continue to review and release more documents as they were ready.
Comey said in the memo that he was “okay if folks have a different view of the investigation (although I struggle to see how they actually could, especially when they didn’t do the investigation), or about the wisdom of announcing it as we did (although even with hindsight I think that was the best course).” But he said he had “no patience for suggestions that we conducted ourselves as anything but what we are — honest, competent, and independent.
“Those suggesting that we are ‘political’ or part of some ‘fix’ either don’t know us, or they are full of baloney (and maybe some of both),” he wrote.