The FBI said on Tuesday it was not recommending charges against Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server as secretary of state, an issue that has dogged her campaign for the White House.
Though “there is evidence that they (Clinton and her aides) were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information”, FBI director James Comey said in prepared remarks, “we are expressing to justice our view that no charges are appropriate in this case”.
The justice department will make the final decision but the FBI recommendation was widely taken to mark the beginning of the end of a controversy that has dogged Clinton’s campaign for months.
CNN commentator David Gergen said though the FBI decision will likely to create controversy, it “basically removes big hurdle from (Hillary Rodham Clinton’s) path”.
A spokesman for Clinton, who was to appear with President Barack Obama at their first joint campaign appearance later on Tuesday, said her campaign was pleased with the FBI findings, and that it was a “mistake” for her to use the personal email.
But her Republican rival Donald Trump had. He tweeted: “FBI director said Crooked Hillary compromised our national security. No charges. Wow! #RiggedSystem.”
The FBI began investigating her use of a private email server on a referral from a intelligence community watchdog to ascertain if classified information was transmitted on that system.
As secretary of state, Clinton used a private email service hosted on a server at her home in New York state, which was neither maintained, supervised nor guarded by the government.
As part of the investigation, Clinton handed over 30,000 work-related emails from this server to the state department, which were investigated by the FBI and others.
Among them, 110 emails in 52 email chains contained classified information at the time they were sent or received; 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. About 2,000 others were classified later.
Comey said seven email chains concerned matters “that were classified at the Top Secret/Special Access Program level when they were sent and received”.
He added: “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 system was no place for that conversation.”
Comey also criticised the “security culture of the state department in general, and with respect to use of unclassified email systems in particular”. On the question of “hostile characters” gaining access to Clinton’s loosely guarded email system, he said the FBI had found no direct evidence of it.
But, he added, they may have “gained access to the private commercial email accounts of people with whom secretary Clinton was in regular contact from her personal account”.
Also, Clinton used her private email system while abroad, “including sending and receiving work-related e-mails in the territory of sophisticated adversaries”.
In short: “Given that combination of factors, we assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to secretary Clinton’s personal email account.”.
But anticipating blowback to the FBI’s recommendation, the director, who is Republican, said “this investigation was done competently, honestly, and independently. No outside influence of any kind was brought to bear.”