The FBI conducted a lengthy interview with Hillary Clinton on Saturday morning, focused on her use of a private email server while secretary of state.
"Secretary Clinton gave a voluntary interview this morning about her email arrangements while she was Secretary," Clinton’s campaign said in a press statement. "She is pleased to have had the opportunity to assist the Department of Justice in bringing this review to a conclusion. Out of respect for the investigative process, she will not comment further on her interview."
According to the campaign, the interview took place at the FBI’s Washington headquarters and lasted approximately three and a half hours.
The FBI’s investigation centers on whether Clinton knowingly sent or stored classified information on a private, unsecured email server she had installed at her home in upstate New York. If that proves true, she could face criminal charges for unlawfully removing and retaining classified information.
Given what we know now, an indictment doesn’t seem likely. As Vox’s Dylan Matthews noted, prosecutors would need evidence not just that Clinton sent classified information outside secure government networks but that she did so knowing that it was supposed to be classified.
Clinton has denied this, insisting any classified material in the emails was either classified after the fact or she did not realize it had been classified — a position she likely reiterated today to the FBI.
US drone strikes in Pakistan become central to the email controversy
One of the long-running mysteries of the email controversy has been what, exactly, Clinton’s emails contained.
As Max Fisher wrote for Vox in January, the US government has an absurd overclassification system in which seemingly banal emails can be retroactively designated as top secret. For months, it wasn’t clear if Clinton’s emails fit this description or were about something much more critical to the US government.
We’re now getting a much clearer answer as the FBI’s investigation enters its final stages. Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal revealed that FBI investigators are becoming increasingly focused on emails in 2011 and 2012 among Clinton’s aides about certain CIA drone strikes in Pakistan.
The State Department had to decide if it was going to object to those strikes. And so Clinton’s aides debated internally with oblique language — not mentioning the word "drone" or "CIA" — about the right course of action via less secure communications.
As the Wall Street Journal reported:
One such exchange came just before Christmas in 2011, when the U.S. ambassador sent a short, cryptic note to his boss indicating a drone strike was planned. That sparked a back-and-forth among Mrs. Clinton’s senior advisers over the next few days, in which it was clear they were having the discussions in part because people were away from their offices for the holiday and didn’t have access to a classified computer, officials said.
The CIA drone campaign, though widely reported in Pakistan, is treated as secret by the U.S. government. Under strict U.S. classification rules, U.S. officials have been barred from discussing strikes publicly and even privately outside of secure communications systems.
This only happened a few times, the Wall Street Journal reported, adding that it’s not uncommon for government officials to use these unsecured systems "to give each other notice about sensitive but fast-moving events."
When are we going to have an answer?
There is a likely end to this controversy in sight — and it may come at an inopportune time for the Clinton campaign.
Citing law enforcement sources, ABC News reported this week that the Justice Department is aiming to end its investigation into Clinton before the Democratic and Republican conventions are held later this month.
The DNC’s convention will be held from July 25 to 28, when Clinton is expected to officially become the party’s nominee.
In the meantime, Clinton has sought to dismiss the idea that she’s under criminal investigation, recently telling CBS News that the FBI is really conducting a "security inquiry" and expressing confidence that she’ll be exonerated by the FBI’s final decision.