WASHINGTON (AP) — A draft statement former FBI Director James Comey prepared in anticipation of concluding the Hillary Clinton email case without criminal charges was heavily edited to change the "tone and substance" of the remarks, a Republican senator said Thursday.
Some of the edits proposed to the May 2016 draft, obtained by The Associated Press, appear to soften the gravity of the bureau's findings.
Comey, for instance, initially wrote that the FBI believed that Clinton and her aides were "grossly negligent" in their handling of classified information, language also contained in the relevant criminal statute.
But the text was edited to say they were simply "extremely careless" in their use of a personal email server, a phrase Comey adopted for his July 5 public announcement that the FBI would not be recommending charges.
Comey's ultimate statement also omitted language asserting that the "sheer volume" of information classified as secret at the time it was shared made it reasonable to believe that the former secretary of state and her aides were grossly negligent.
In addition, while Comey initially said it was "reasonably likely" that "hostile actors" had gained access to Clinton's email server, the text was edited to say that such an intrusion was "possible."
The original version noted that the FBI had worked with partners in the intelligence community to determine whether the server had been compromised. While it was unclear what significance this had, it was omitted from Comey's final text.
Though the FBI had not yet interviewed Clinton, then the Democratic candidate for president, at the time the statement was drafted, FBI officials had already determined that criminal charges were probably not warranted and had begun thinking about how to present that conclusion to the public.
Comey on May 2 circulated a proposed draft statement to other senior FBI officials laying out the basis for the eventual decision against recommending charges for Clinton and her aides.
Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, the Republican chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said he had obtained from the FBI a copy of Comey's original draft with proposed line-by-line edits from other FBI officials. It's not clear from the document which official suggested what changes, though many were incorporated into Comey's July 5 announcement.
In a letter to FBI Director Chris Wray, Johnson said edits to Comey's original remarks "appear to change the tone and substance." He asked the FBI to identify the officials who had proposed the changes.
The letter comes amid the disclosure of politically charged text messages sent by one of the agents on the case, Peter Strzok, in 2015 and 2016. Strzok, who was in the room as Clinton was interviewed, was later assigned to special counsel Robert Mueller's team to investigate potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign.
He was removed from that team last summer following the discovery of negative text messages about Donald Trump.