FBI recommends no criminal charges over Hillary Clinton emails

Agency criticises Democratic candidate’s ‘extremely careless’ handling of highly classified information

US president Barack Obama (R) and Democratic  presidential candidate Hillary Clinton arrive prior to a campaign event in Charlotte, North Carolina. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

US president Barack Obama (R) and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton arrive prior to a campaign event in Charlotte, North Carolina. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

 

The FBI has recommended that no criminal charges be brought against Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton over her use of a private email server when she served as US secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.

In a decision that will reverberate in this year’s presidential race, FBI director James Comey said that investigators and prosecutors had concluded that there was insufficient evidence to bring a criminal case against Mrs Clinton, lifting a cloud that has overshadowed her campaign for almost a year.

While Mr Comey’s decision will come as a relief to the Democratic candidate, he was highly critical of Mrs Clinton and her staff for their use of a private email server, calling them “extremely careless” in their handling of highly classified and sensitive government information.

Though critical of how the emails were handled, Mr Comey said that the FBI would not be recommending that prosecutors bring charges in the case.

“Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgement is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case,” he said.

“In looking back at our investigations into the mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts.”

Mr Comey said that past prosecutions over the mishandling of classified information in other cases were “clearly intentional and willful,” intentional misconduct,” or indicated disloyalty to the United States or efforts to obstruct justice. “We do not see that here,” he said.

Still, he delivered damaging findings against Mrs Clinton over her use of an unclassified private email server at her home in Chappaqua, New York that will raise further questions on the campaign trail about her judgement and will be used against her in her second attempt to be elected president of the US.

“Any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position, or in the position of those government employees with whom she was corresponding about these matters, should have know that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation,” said the FBI director.

Mr Comey said that out of 30,000 emails handed over by Mrs Clinton to the State Department 110 emails in 52 email chains contained classified information at the time they were sent or received. Eight of the email chains contained information that was deemed “top secret” at the time they were sent.

“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.

The FBI did not find any evidence that Mrs Clinton’s email had been hacked directly but they did conclude that “hostile actors did gain access to private email accounts that corresponded with Mrs Clinton’s account,” said Mr Comey.

Investigators found that she used her personal email extensively while outside the United States “in the territory of sophisticated adversaries.

“It is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal email account,” he said.

The FBI announcement comes at an awkward time for Mrs Clinton and for the Obama administration. She is due to appear alongside President Barack Obama on a stage later this afternoon in his first campaign appearance in his former secretary of state’s presidential campaign in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Mr Comey made his findings public two days after Mrs Clinton gave what her campaign spokesman called a “voluntary” interview with investigators at the FBI headquarters in Washington DC for three and a half hours on Saturday.

The FBI director said that “no outside influence of any kind” was brought to bear in reaching his decision.

His findings mean that Mrs Clinton will likely escape any kind of prosecutorial censure given that US attorney general Loretta Lynch said on Friday that the Justice Department would accept whatever recommendation made to her by the FBI.

“We have expressed to Justice our view that no charges are appropriate in this case,” said Mr Comey.

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, Mrs Clinton’s rival in the November presidential election, tweeted in response to the FBI’s decision: “The system is rigged. General Petraeus got in trouble for far less. Very, very unfair! As usual, bad judgment.”

General David Petraeus resigned as the director of the CIA in 2012 over an extramarital affair and later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanour charge for passing classified information to his biographer with whom he had been having an affair.

Mr Trump later tweeted: “FBI director said Crooked Hillary compromised our national security. No charges. Wow! #RiggedSystem.”