FBI Director James Comey told a packed hearing Thursday on Capitol Hill that Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified material was not held to a different standard from that of lower-ranking military or civilian officials.
Comey drew a sharp contrast between Clinton’s case and that of former CIA Director David Petraeus, a war hero who pleaded guilty last year to a misdemeanor charge of giving classified material to his lover and biographer, Paula Broadwell of Charlotte, North Carolina.
Offering new details of the Petraeus case, Comey told legislators that FBI agents searching Petraeus’ home had found vast quantities of classified material “in the insulation of his attic.” Afterward, Petraeus lied about it, Comey said. “He lied about it,” he repeated.
In answer to questions from Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Republican-led House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Comey confirmed that eight notebooks Petraeus had kept at his home included the identities of covert officers, U.S. intelligence capabilities and notes on discussions with the president.
“He knew what he was doing violated the law,” Comey said of Petraeus, adding that the retired four-star general, revered by many for his service in Iraq and Afghanistan, was not charged with obstruction of justice despite lying about his actions.
Asked whether he stood by the decision to prosecute Petraeus, Comey said, “Oh, yeah.”
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the committee’s chairman, opened the hearing by saying he was “mystified, confused” by Comey’s recommendation earlier in the week not to seek prosecution of Clinton, a Democrat who seeks the presidency.
If ordinary citizens acted as Clinton did, “they’d be in handcuffs,” Chaffetz said. “They’d be on the way to jail.”
We have no basis to conclude that she lied to the FBI.
Director James Comey
Chaffetz asked Comey whether Clinton had lied to those who’d interviewed her for three and a half hours last Saturday about the classified material she’d handled through an unauthorized server in the basement of her New York home.
“To the FBI?” Comey responded. “We have no basis to conclude that she lied to the FBI.”
Comey declined to answer directly when Chaffetz asked whether Clinton had done “anything wrong.” Comey said that because someone didn’t face prosecution for mishandling classified information didn’t mean they wouldn’t face other administrative sanctions.
Clinton handled at least three emails with classified information, Comey said, suggesting that the former secretary of state may not have understood a classified marking – (C) – before paragraphs containing secret material.
“It’s possible that she didn’t understand what a ‘C’ meant in the body of an email,” Comey said.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee had called Comey to testify only two days after he’d held a news conference to announce the bureau’s recommendation in uncharacteristic detail.
Steve Linick, the Department of State inspector general, and I. Charles McCullough III, the intelligence community inspector general, were also expected to testify in what could be a four-hour hearing.
The FBI’s assessment contradicted several statements Clinton and her staff had made over the past year about her unprecedented decision to use a private email server exclusively for government business while serving as the nation’s top diplomat.
It also said many of her closest, most trusted aides, including Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills and former Deputy Chief of Staff Huma Abedin, had made poor decisions and had sent and received classified information. It’s unclear whether those staffers and others, many working for Clinton’s campaign, might have trouble receiving security clearances if they return to government work.
Comey used words Tuesday to describe Clinton’s behavior that have already been repeated in the GOP presidential campaign against her, among them that she and her staff had been “extremely careless.”
“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 information that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information,” Comey said.
Among the FBI findings he outlined Tuesday:
▪ Clinton and her staffers “should have known that an unclassified system was no place” for their email conversations.
▪ The security culture of the State Department was “lacking in the kind of care for classified information found elsewhere in the government.”
▪ “Hostile actors” could have gained access to the email accounts of Clinton associates whom she regularly contacted.
“The FBI’s recommendation is surprising and confusing,” Chaffetz, the committee chairman, said Wednesday in announcing the hearing to question Comey. “The fact pattern presented by Director Comey makes clear Secretary Clinton violated the law. Individuals who intentionally skirt the law must be held accountable.”
“Congress and the American people have a right to understand the depth and breadth of the FBI’s investigation,” he said.