U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Wednesday confirmed that the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state will be closed without criminal charges.
The announcement brings to a formal end a probe that for months dogged the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee’s campaign, though it is not particularly surprising.
On Tuesday, FBI Director James B. Comey had said “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring a criminal case against Clinton or her staffers, even though investigators found “evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information.” That effectively ended any hopes Clinton’s opponents might have had for an indictment, though Comey said final authority technically rested with the Justice Department, which announced its decision in a brief statement from Lynch.
“Late this afternoon, I met with FBI Director James Comey and career prosecutors and agents who conducted the investigation of Secretary Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal email system during her time as Secretary of State. I received and accepted their unanimous recommendation that the thorough, year-long investigation be closed and that no charges be brought against any individuals within the scope of the investigation,” the attorney general said.
Spokesmen for Clinton’s campaign did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. After Comey recommended no charges be filed, spokesman Brian Fallon said in a statement: “We are pleased that the career officials handling this case have determined that no further action by the Department is appropriate. As the Secretary has long said, it was a mistake to use her personal email and she would not do it again. We are glad that this matter is now resolved.”
While the investigation into Clinton is now officially over, her email practices are likely to remain a focal point on the campaign trail for the foreseeable future. In announcing his recommendation that Clinton not be charged, Comey himself called into question many of the public explanations Clinton has offered about her private server in the past.
The FBI director said, for example, that Clinton sent or received information that was classified at the time it was sent or received, and a person in her position “should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation.” He said there was no evidence that Clinton’s server or devices had been hacked. But her practice of sending and receiving emails while traveling in foreign countries and general lack of cyber security made it “possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal email account,” he said.
“Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information,” he said.
Even before Lynch’s announcement, Senate Republicans had remarked on the disparity between Comey’s statement and his decision not to recommend charges, and they had begun aggressively seeking more information on how the FBI director came to the conclusion that he did. Comey is scheduled to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee at a hearing on Thursday, and Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) on Wednesday demanded that the bureau release a raft of new details.
Meanwhile, Clinton’s political rivals seized on the FBI director’s critique of the former secretary of state. Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said in a statement: “The normal punishment, in this case, would include losing authority to handle classified information, and that too disqualifies Hillary Clinton from being President.”
Lynch had promised last week that she would accept whatever findings career prosecutors and FBI agents made in the case, and that Comey — who has a reputation as an independent thinker in Washington — would have input. That vow came just days after Lynch and former president Bill Clinton met aboard the attorney general’s plane at an airport in Phoenix in what both said was a chance, social encounter, but one that nonetheless sparked criticism about whether politics might influence the probe.
When he announced his recommendation Tuesday, Comey said Justice Department officials did not know what he was going to say, though he added that the final decision would technically be left to their prosecutors. While his comments foreclosed any possibility of criminal liability, he said those who acted as Clinton and her staffers did were “often subject to security or administrative sanctions.”
During the State Department press briefing Wednesday, spokesman John Kirby discussed the possibility that officials there would review the conduct of former employees who were alleged to have mishandled classified material. While Kirby declined to discuss the FBI findings, he said that a departmental review could have an impact on an individual’s future employment by other government agencies.
“While a former employee cannot be disciplined if he or she is no longer employed by the department, there could be repercussions, including issuing a security violation or infraction, which would be kept in their file,” Kirby said. He said that State Department officials could “weigh-in” on deliberations by other agencies granting security clearances.
“Our policy is to maintain files on personnel who are found to have mishandled information to guide current and potential future decisions about employment and security clearances,” he said.
Tom Hamburger contributed to this report.