The FBI on Friday released a detailed report on its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, as well as what appears to be a summary of her interview with agents, providing the most thorough look yet at the probe that has dogged the campaign of the Democratic presidential nominee.
The documents, which total 58 pages, do not seem to provide any major revelations about Clinton’s actions — though they paint her and her staff as either unaware of or unconcerned with State Department policies on email use. The materials also show that the FBI was unable to track down all of Clinton’s devices, including phones, it sought, and that made it impossible for agents to definitively answer every question they had, including whether Clinton’s emails were hacked.
“The FBI’s investigation and forensic analysis did not find evidence confirming that Clinton’s e-mail accounts or mobile devices were compromised by cyber means,” the author of the report wrote. “However, investigative limitations, including the FBI’s inability to obtain all mobile devices and various computer components associated with Clinton’s personal e-mail systems, prevented the FBI from conclusively determining whether the classified information transmitted and stored on Clinton’s personal server systems was compromised via cyber intrusion or other means.”
FBI Director James B. Comey announced in July that his agency would not recommend criminal charges against Clinton for her use of a private email server. Comey said that Clinton and her staffers were “extremely careless” in how they treated classified information, but investigators did not find they intended to mishandle such material. Nor did investigators uncover exacerbating factors — such as efforts to obstruct justice — that often lead to charges in similar cases, Comey said.
The FBI turned over to several congressional committees documents related to the probe and required that they be viewed only by those with appropriate security clearances, even though not all of the material was classified, legislators and their staffers have said.
Those documents included an investigative report and summaries of interviews with more than a dozen senior Clinton staffers, other State Department officials, former secretary of state Colin Powell and at least one other person. The documents released Friday represent but a fraction of those.
A summary prepared by FBI agents of their hours-long interview with Clinton in July shows that Clinton’s account to law enforcement was generally consistent with what she has said about her email situation publicly, though she repeatedly told agents she could not recall important details or specific emails she was questioned about.
She told the agents that she began using the private server as a matter of convenience and denied the set-up was intended to help evade public records laws. She indicated she never sought nor received permission to use a private server and said she largely turned over the set-up of the system to aides.
She told agents that she generally received classified material in personal briefings or on paper, which she read in specially prepared secure facilities, and that she didn’t remember ever receiving an email that she thought shouldn’t be sent through the unclassified system.
Comey has said Clinton sent and received 110 emails that the FBI assessed contained sensitive content that was classified at the time. They were generally not marked as such, however, he has said, indicating that only “a very small number” of emails contained classified markings in the body of the email but no standard headings. The State Department has said there were two such emails and they were marked in error.
“She relied on State officials to use their judgment when emailing her and could not recall anyone raising concerns with her regarding the sensitivity of the information she received at her email address,” the interview summary concludes.
Much of the interview, which is described in an 11-page summary, appears to have consisted of FBI agents showing Clinton specific email exchanges that they determined included classified content and asking her to comment. Repeatedly, Clinton said she could not remember the specific exchange but had trusted at the time that her staff at the State Department knew how to handle classified material and would not email her material they should not. The exact nature of those classified emails are redacted in the version of the summary released by the FBI but it is clear they included deliberations on drone targets. Shown one July 2012 email she exchanged with President Obama at his own highly secure address, Clinton indicated that she recalled sending the note on an airplane during a trip to Russia.
As she has said publicly, Clinton indicated that she believed her records were being preserved when she emailed other State Department officials at their government addresses. Clinton also told the FBI that she played no role in sorting her work and personal emails after she left office other than to instruct her legal team to submit to the State Department all those emails that were “work-related or arguably work related.” Comey has indicated the FBI discovered thousands of work related emails that Clinton had not turned over but said the agency found no effort to purposely delete or conceal emails.
Comey’s announcement in July offered unusual transparency into how the FBI handled the case, and he later answered questions about the matter for nearly five hours during a hearing on Capitol Hill.
People on both sides of the political aisle have criticized Comey for his blunt assessment of Clinton’s conduct and unusual release of materials to Congress. Republicans have said the bureau made inspection of them unnecessarily difficult by inappropriately mingling classified documents with unclassified ones. Democrats have said making the documents available at all — especially the summaries of witness statements — sets a bad precedent and might discourage future witnesses from sitting for voluntary interviews with agents.
Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon has said that turning over the documents was “an extraordinarily rare step that was sought solely by Republicans for the purposes of further second-guessing the career professionals at the FBI.” But he has said that if the documents were going to be shared outside the Justice Department, “they should be released widely so that the public can see them for themselves, rather than allow Republicans to mischaracterize them through selective, partisan leaks.”
Though Fallon seems to have gotten his wish, the public release of the documents will undoubtedly draw more attention to a topic that seems to have fueled negative perceptions of Clinton. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 41 percent of Americans had a favorable impression of Clinton, while 56 percent had an unfavorable one.