In a bombshell announcement, FBI Director James Comey accused former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday of having been “extremely careless” in handling classified information on her private email server but recommended that she not face criminal charges.
“Although the Department of Justice makes final decisions on matters like this, we are expressing to Justice our view that no charges are appropriate in this case,” Comey said in a televised statement from FBI headquarters. “Although there is evidence of potential violation of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.”
The announcement, which came hours before Clinton was to hold her first joint campaign rally with President Obama, did not quiet the political firestorm surrounding her decision to use a private server for her official work email during her time at the State Department.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump immediately denounced the news on Twitter.
“The system is rigged,” he said. “Very very unfair! As usual, bad judgment.”
FBI director said Crooked Hillary compromised our national security. No charges. Wow! #RiggedSystem
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 5, 2016
The announcement came after the FBI interviewed Clinton at its headquarters on Saturday for three and a half hours, the culmination of a yearlong investigation that has dogged her presidential campaign and fueled her sky-high disapproval ratings.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch said on Friday that she would accept the recommendations of the FBI and senior Justice Department prosecutors. Lynch made that pledge as she tried to dampen the controversy over a meeting with former President Bill Clinton earlier in the week.
While Comey stopped short of recommending that the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee face criminal charges, the widely respected FBI chief painted an unsparing picture of her controversial and unprecedented use of a private email server to do government work. While other past secretaries of state had used private, commercially available email, none had set up a private server.
“Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of the classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information,” he said.
Clinton sent and received emails that concerned matters that were classified at the top-secret special access program level at the time of the communications, he said. That flatly contradicted the former first lady’s public assertion that she never sent or received classified information.
“There is evidence to support a conclusion that any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position or in the position of those with whom she was corresponding about the matters should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation,” Comey said.
Comey also said “it is possible that hostile actors gained access” to Clinton’s private email account, noting that her use of that system was widely known and that she sent and received work emails “in the territory of sophisticated adversaries.”
The FBI chief explained the decision not to recommend charges by saying that previous cases that were prosecuted involved a blend of clearly intentional mishandling of national secrets, or disloyalty to the U.S., or obstruction of justice. “But we do not see those things here,” he said.
Still, Comey said, individuals found to have done what Clinton and her senior aides did rarely face “no consequences.”
Instead, “those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions,” he said.
But with Clinton and her top aides out of government, that seemed unlikely to occur.
The Clinton campaign said it was pleased with the outcome.
“As the Secretary has long said, it was a mistake to use her personal email and she would not do it again,” the campaign said in a prepared statement. “We are glad that this matter is now resolved.”
(This story has been updated since it originally published.)