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FBI Director James Comey: No ‘reasonable prosecutor’ would bring charges against Hillary Clinton over her private email server

The FBI is giving HRC a slap on the wrist.

FBI Director James Comey
Joe Raedle / Getty

In a scripted press conference on Tuesday morning, FBI Director James Comey said his agency isn’t recommending that the DOJ pursue charges against Hillary Clinton for setting up a private email server as Secretary of State.

“There is evidence [State Department employees] were extremely careless of highly sensitive classified information,” Comey said in his address. “None of these emails should have been on any unclassified system.”

But he said there was no evidence that Hillary Clinton’s staffers intentionally deleted emails or hid their communications, and that there wasn’t a precedent to pursue charges. All the same, Comey said, the State Department’s practices posed a bigger problem for government security.

“We also developed evidence that the security culture of the State Department was generally lacking in the kind of care for classified information that’s found elsewhere in U.S. government,” Comey said. He added that although the FBI didn’t find “direct evidence” that Clinton’s server was ever hacked, the agency wouldn’t likely find such evidence.

The announcement brings to a close an investigation that was launched a year ago, after a House committee investigating Benghazi learned that Clinton had used a private email server during her time as Secretary of State. Clinton subsequently turned over 55,000 pages of emails, though she said she withheld correspondence of a personal nature — such as plans for her daughter’s wedding.

Comey said the investigation focused on whether there was evidence that classified information was improperly stored or transmitted — either mishandled in an intentionally or grossly negligent way that would constitute a felony, or knowingly removed from appropriate storage.

The FBI also investigated whether a foreign power had gained access to Clinton’s personal email server. It found no evidence of a successful hack.

The FBI learned that Clinton had used several different email servers throughout her four-year tenure at the State Department, and several different gadgets to send correspondence. Figuring out what happened with Clinton’s email wasn’t an easy task, Comey said.

“When one of Secretary Clinton’s original personal servers was decommissioned in 2013, the email software was removed. Doing that didn’t remove the email content, but it was like removing the frame from a huge finished jigsaw puzzle and dumping the pieces on the floor,” Comey said. “The effect was that millions of email fragments end up unsorted in the server’s unused — or “slack” — space. We searched through all of it to see what was there, and what parts of the puzzle could be put back together.”

FBI investigators read through all of the estimated 30,000 emails Clinton provided to the State Department. When it appeared the correspondence might contain classified information, Comey said investors spoke with other government agencies to determine whether the email had been classified at the time.

Some 110 emails were found to contain classified information at the time — eight of those email exchanges contained Top Secret information, and another eight contained a lower level classification of confidential, Comey said.

The FBI also discovered several thousand work-related emails that were not among those Clinton turned over to the State Department — traces of which were found on devices connected to the private email domain or archived in government email accounts of government employees (including high-ranking officials at other agencies with whom Clinton corresponded).

“We found no evidence that any of the additional work-related emails were intentionally deleted in an effort to conceal them,” Comey said. “Our assessment is that, like many email users, Secretary Clinton periodically deleted emails or emails were purged from the system when devices were changed.”

Some of the work-related emails were among those deleted as “personal” by Clinton’s lawyers, who relied on email headers and search terms to sift through 60,000 emails and determine which were work-related.

“Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information,” Comey said in a statement.

For example, seven email chains concerned matters that were classified as Top Secret/Special Access Program when they were sent — and a “reasonable person” would have known that a private email server was no place for that conversation, Comey said in the statement.

Only a “very small number of emails” contained markings that identified them as containing classified information.

Comey said that although there is evidence of potential violations regarding the handling of classified information, no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case. It doesn’t rise to the levels of past criminal cases, which involved either the intentional and willful mishandling of classified information, disloyalty to the United States or an effort to obstruct justice.

The FBI wouldn’t normally make its recommendations to prosecutors public, but, “In this case, given the importance of the matter, I think unusual transparency is in order.”

The Justice Department has the final say on whether to prosecute — a decision U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said she’d leave to the career staffers, in the wake of criticisms following her impromptu meeting with Bill Clinton on the tarmac at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump turned to Twitter to release a statement that criticized the FBI’s recommendation.

Update: Clinton spokesperson Brian Fallon issued a statement, saying the campaign is pleased with the FBI’s recommendation.

"As the Secretary has long said, it was a mistake to use her personal email and she would not do it again. We are glad that this matter is now resolved," Fallon said.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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