Writing for The Washington Post, Chris Cillizza said it well. “Here’s the good news for Hillary Clinton: the FBI has recommended no charges be brought following its investigation of the former secretary of state’s private email server. Here’s the bad news: just about everything else.” FBI Director James Comey announced Tuesday that the bureau is recommending the Justice Department pursue no charges against Hillary Clinton for her use of a personal email account to handle government business. Why? Because there was no proof that Mrs. Clinton and her team had any intent to violate the law.
The early spin from the Clinton campaign is that she is exonerated. And in the court of law that is true. But in the court of public opinion, the 15-minute news conference handed Donald Trump more ammunition for the fall campaign than he could have hoped for. In the language of his casinos, Director Comey just handed Trump a pair of aces at the Blackjack table. The remaining question is what Trump will do with the hand he was just dealt.
So what did Mr. Comey say? The FBI found four things . . .
1. Clinton sent and received classified information.
While some of the emails Clinton sent have been declared classified retroactively, Comey said 110 emails in 52 email chains were classified at the time they were sent. Of those: eight email chains contained “top secret” information, 36 chains contained “secret” information, and eight email chains contained “confidential” information, the lowest classification level. “None of those emails should have been on any kind of unclassified system,” Comey declared. Of course, this directly refutes Clinton’s repeated claims.
2. Some emails have been conveniently lost.
Clinton and her attorneys handed over the 30,000 emails that they said were business-related, from her private system. The personal emails were deleted. But Comey said that in this process, it is “likely that there are other work-related emails that they did not produce . . . that are now gone because they deleted all emails they did not return to State, and the lawyers cleaned their devises.” The FBI was unable to recover those.
3. Her email might have been hacked.
Comey said there was no direct evidence Clinton’s email was hacked, but other people she corresponded with were hacked, and her use of a private email system was well-known. She also used her email while traveling “in the territory of sophisticated adversaries.” Thus, he said, “It is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal email account, and we have to assume they did.”
4. Clinton used many servers, not one.
The story of Clinton’s emails has been about her use of a private server to run her own email system, but Comey said, “Secretary Clinton used several different servers and administrators of those servers during her four years at the State Department, and used numerous mobile devices to view and send email.” Old servers got decommissioned as new equipment was brought online, and information on old devices was scrapped.
So why no charges?
Comey said the key here is that investigators found no intent to break the law. Cases that have been filed in similar situations have been based on “clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information” or “indications of disloyalty to the United States.” In the Clinton case, Comey didn’t say these things didn’t exist, but that intent could not be proven.
Remember Richard Nixon?
In the early 1970s, a certain president named Richard Nixon was run out of office because of a second-rate break-in to the Democratic offices, and his refusal to come clean. Today, we have a candidate who, according to the FBI, erased work-related emails, then lied about it and covered it up, likely putting national security at risk. But the same crowd (I was one of them) who thought Nixon’s actions disqualified him from office now largely support a candidate who put national security at risk by violating the rules of her own office and, according to Comey, running the most inept department in government (that’s saying a lot).
The good news for Mr. Trump: he has just been dealt a pair of aces.
The good news for Mrs. Clinton: the low-information voters aren’t paying attention. Did Mrs. Clinton put American security at risk? According to the FBI, the answer is a resounding “YES.” But Clinton supporters won’t care.