The FBI will not recommend criminal charges against Hillary Clinton for her private email setup, Director James Comey said Tuesday in an announcement that immediately roiled the race for the White House.
Despite evidence that the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and her senior aides were “extremely careless” with government secrets during her time as secretary of State, Comey said investigators had concluded there was not sufficient evidence to recommend an indictment against Clinton.
“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,” Comey said in dramatic comments from the FBI's headquarters in downtown Washington.
“We are expressing to Justice our view that no charges are appropriate in this case.”
Comey dinged the former Secretary of State for careless handling of the information, noting that a person in her position “should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation.”
“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,” Comey said. Read Comey's statement here.
The decision all but clears Clinton of the federal investigation that has loomed over her presidential campaign for nearly a year, since Attorney General Loretta Lynch had pledged to accept the recommendation of the FBI and career prosecutors.
Comey’s announcement comes just three days after the former secretary of State sat for a 3.5-hour interview with the FBI on Saturday, and just a few hours before President Obama is set to campaign with Clinton in Charlotte, N.C. It also comes about a week after Lynch met on an Arizona tarmac with Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton.
The juxtaposition is likely to inflame White House critics, who have insisted that political pressures would prevent any chance of an indictment for Clinton, regardless of the damage to national security.
Obam has previously weighed in to dismiss concerns about the investigation — to the ire of Republicans and federal investigators.
GOP presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump quickly fired a tweet at Comey, calling the decision unfair and saying it showed the system was rigged.
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) also ripped the decision, saying that it "defies explanation."
"No one should be above the law. But based upon the director's own statement, it appears damage is being done to the rule of law," Ryan said in a statement.
"Declining to prosecute Secretary Clinton for recklessly mishandling and transmitting national security information will set a terrible precedent. The findings of this investigation also make clear that Secretary Clinton misled the American people when she was confronted with her criminal actions. While we need more information about how the Bureau came to this recommendation, the American people will reject this troubling pattern of dishonesty and poor judgment," he said.
The FBI director insisted that politics did not play a role in his decision.
“No outside influence of any kind was brought to bear,” he said.
The Justice Department and other branches of the Obama administration were not informed of his decision before Tuesday, he told reporters.
Investigators had found evidence that Clinton and her aides handled classified information poorly, Comey said on Tuesday.
But those findings were not sufficient to support an indictment. Similar cases in the past, he said, involved either “clearly intentional and willful” mishandling of information, larger amounts of mishandling or other evidence of willful thwarting of the law.
“We do not see those things here,” Comey said.
Still, the findings were far from a blanket dismissal of concern about Clinton's behavior.
“There is evidence to support a conclusion that 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 known that an unclassified was no place” for sensitive conversations, he said.
Someone else in a similar situation could face “security or administrative sanctions,” he added.
“But that is not what we are deciding now.”
Last week, Lynch said that she would defer judgment to the FBI and career Justice Department prosecutors, following a private and extremely controversial 30-minute meeting with the former president. The decision left Comey as the public face of the investigation, in what some viewed as an opportunity for the hard-nosed maverick to buck political pressures and act against Clinton.
“It is impossible for the FBI not to recommend criminal charges against Hillary Clinton,” her presumptive general election opponent, Trump said on Twitter this weekend. “What she did was wrong! What Bill did was stupid!”
The FBI began its probe connected to Clinton last summer, when inspectors general at the State Department and federal intelligence agencies referred Clinton's "homebrew" email arrangement to the Justice Department for review. The setup might have jeopardized sensitive national secrets, investigators warned
Roughly one-in-15 of the work-related messages that Clinton sent or received on the private server have been classified at some level, according to the trove of 30,000 emails that she handed over to the State Department. Twenty-two emails were classified as top secret — the highest level of secrecy.
Comey said on Tuesday that 113 emails contained information that was classified at the time it was sent, including eight messages at the top secret level. The rest were classified after the fact.
Eight of those chains contained information considered top secret at the time, 36 contained information considered secret, and eight contained information considered confidential — the lowest designation.
That number includes three emails from among the roughly 30,000 that Clinton deleted from her private server, claiming they were personal. The FBI uncovered the deleted emails through "traces" left on her machines as well as through the email accounts of the people she was communicating with.
Investigators found no evidence that those emails were "intentionally deleted in an effort to conceal them," Comey claimed.
Rather, she may have deleted them during the course of her work, or else they may not have triggered a response when lawyers searches through her inbox to separate officials messages from personal ones.
It is "likely" that additional work-related emails may simply be gone for good, the FBI director said.
In May, the State Department's inspector general released a scathing report claiming that Clinton had never asked to use the unconventional setup while in office, and that the request would have been denied if she had.
Comey has been under the gun to finalize the investigation before the presidential nominating conventions later this month.
While the FBI director has insisted that he had no deadline to complete the probe, a delay past the end of the month would have been interpreted as a sign of trouble for her campaign.