FBI Director James Comey appeared before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Thursday to further detail the FBI’s yearlong investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and handling of classified information while she was secretary of state.
Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, hastily scheduled the hearing just two days after Comey announced the findings of his agency’s investigation into Clinton and recommended that no criminal charges be filed against her.
Although the FBI ultimately concluded Clinton’s handling of classified information did not warrant criminal charges, Comey criticized her Tuesday for being “extremely careless” in setting up a server in the basement of her New York home and using a private email address.
A spokesman for Clinton said that she was happy the investigation is over.
“We are pleased that the career officials handling this case have determined that no further action by the [Justice] Department is appropriate,” Brian Fallon said in a statement to Politico. “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.”
The FBI’s findings contradicted some of what Clinton has said publicly and to members of Congress regarding her private server and handling of classified information.
Those conclusions left many Republican lawmakers wondering how Comey and the FBI ultimately came to the decision not to recommend criminal charges and ultimately prompted Thursday’s hearing.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said Comey was given a “thankless” task in investigating Clinton.
“No matter what recommendation you made, you were sure to be criticized,” Cummings said. “In a sense, Mr. Director, you are on trial.”
Here are seven of the key takeaways from Comey’s appearance before the Oversight Committee:
1) Comey says there is no basis that Clinton lied to the FBI.
Nearly one year ago, on July 25, Clinton told reporters at a press conference that she was “confident” she “never sent or received any information that was classified at the time it was sent or received.”
However, during its investigation, the FBI concluded that 110 emails in 52 email chains Clinton returned to the State Department contained classified information when they were sent or received. Eight of those communications contained “top secret” information, 37 received “secret information,” and the rest contained “confidential information,” the FBI said.
Of those emails, a “very small number” had markings identifying them as classified.
During the hearing, Chaffetz questioned whether Clinton lied to the FBI during a three-hour interview that took place Saturday. Though Clinton told the public she never sent or received classified information, Comey said she didn’t lie to the FBI.
“We have no basis to conclude she lied to the FBI,” Comey said Thursday.
2) Chaffetz plans to file a referral to the FBI to look into whether she lied to Congress under oath.
While questioning Comey on Clinton’s statements regarding her handling of classified information, Chaffetz asked Comey if the FBI looked into whether the former secretary of state lied under oath about receiving and sending classified information.
During an October hearing before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, asked Clinton about classified information sent in emails stored on her server.
“There was nothing marked classified on my emails, either sent or received,” Clinton told Jordan during the hearing.
Comey told Chaffetz that, although he was aware of Clinton’s exchange with Jordan, the FBI hadn’t investigated whether she lied under oath because the agency never received a referral to do so from Congress.
Chaffetz confirmed the committee would send a referral to the FBI to probe Clinton’s testimony.
3) Comey says Clinton’s case is very different from that involving David Petraeus.
Since the FBI’s announcement, many have been pointing to an investigation into former CIA Director David Petraeus’s handling of classified information in comparison with the FBI’s handling of the Clinton matter. Petraeus pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge after disclosing classified information to his biographer Paula Broadwell.
Cummings, the committee’s ranking member, urged Comey to point out the similarities or differences between Petraeus’s and Clinton’s cases.
“He was caught on audio tape telling [Broadwell], and I quote, ‘I mean, they are highly classified,’” Cummings said.
Comey, though, said the case involving Petraeus “illustrates perfectly the kinds of cases the Department of Justice is willing to prosecute.”
“Clearly intentional conduct. Knew what he was doing was violation of the law,” Comey said of the former CIA director. “Huge amounts of information. If you couldn’t prove he knew it, raises the inference [that] he did it and effort to obstruct justice. That combination of things makes it worthy of a prosecution. A misdemeanor prosecution, but a prosecution nonetheless.”
4) There is no transcript or recording of Clinton’s meeting with the FBI on Saturday, and she wasn’t placed under oath.
Clinton met with the FBI for a three-hour interview Saturday, which Comey said was the agency’s last step before concluding its investigation.
During his testimony before the Oversight Committee today, Comey said he wasn’t involved in Clinton’s interview and admitted there was no transcript or recording of the meeting. Furthermore, Comey said Clinton was not put under oath during her interview with the FBI.
However, Comey stressed that it is still a crime to lie to federal agents.
5) Comey said Clinton isn’t sophisticated in her knowledge of classification systems.
Many of the Republicans questioning Comey wondered how Clinton, whose résumé includes first lady, U.S. senator from New York, and secretary of state, would not understand the government’s classification requirements.
“Is it your statement, then, before this committee that Secretary Clinton should have known not to send classified information and yet she did?” Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., asked Comey.
“Certainly she should have known not to send classified information,” Comey said. “As I said, that’s the definition of negligent. I think she was extremely careless. I have to think she was negligent. That I could establish. What we can’t establish is that she acted with the necessary criminal intent.”
Included in three of the emails found on Clinton’s server were paragraphs marked with a “(c),” indicating that the information referenced was to be treated as classified.
Much of that classified information originated from Clinton’s aides, but was included in emails the former secretary of state sent and received.
Comey said he would have assumed that any “reasonable” person would have known the importance of those markings. However, Comey later concluded he wasn’t sure “whether she was actually sophisticated enough to understand what a ‘c’ in parentheses means.”
“One of the things I’ve learned is that the secretary may not be as sophisticated as people would assume,” Comey said.
He further noted that Clinton didn’t have a computer in her office at the State Department.
6) Clinton gave people without security clearances access to classified information.
Comey told lawmakers Thursday that Clinton’s personal server set-up exposed people without security clearances to classified information.
“Did Hillary Clinton give non-cleared people access to classified information?” Chaffetz asked.
“Yes,” Comey replied.
Though the FBI director could not say exactly how many “non-cleared” people had access to that classified information, Comey did estimate it was between two and 10.
Both Chaffetz and Jordan questioned whether Clinton’s lawyers had security clearances and were exposed to that classified information when they were sorting through the emails that would later be turned over to the State Department.
Though Comey said Clinton’s lawyers were among those who were “non-cleared” and accessed classified information, Fallon, spokesman for Clinton, tweeted that the lawyers who sifted through the former secretary of state’s emails had Top Secret-level clearance.
7) Comey contradicted a number of statements Clinton made to reporters and Congress regarding the use of her private email server.
During his line of questioning, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., asked Comey to respond to a number of comments Clinton made over the course of the past year regarding her handling of classified information, some of which he said were found to be untrue throughout the course of the FBI’s investigation.
Comey first confirmed there was information marked classified found on Clinton’s server, despite her reassurances she neither sent nor received any information marked classified.
The FBI director then said that Clinton did, indeed, email classified material, though she in the past said she never did.
Gowdy then asked Comey if Clinton only used one device, as she said she did, to which Comey said she used multiple devices during her tenure as secretary of state.
Gowdy also questioned whether Clinton returned all work-related emails to the State Department. Thousands, Comey said, were not returned and were later recovered by the FBI.
Others were deleted, and traces of work-related emails were found “on devices or in slack space,” Comey said.
“Whether they were deleted or whether when a server changed out something happened to them, there is no doubt that the work-related emails were removed electronically from the email system,” he said.
By Melissa Quinn