In hearing, Comey defends outcome of Clinton investigation, but says she was 'negligent'
FBI Director James Comey said Thursday that his judgment is that there is not evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton broke the law with her use of a private server for email communication or that she lied to investigators.
"I don't think the agents assessed she was evasive," he said of Clinton's three-hour interview with the FBI over the weekend.
Comey revealed that Clinton was not under oath during the interview, but "it's still a crime to lie to us."
Comey testified for more than four hours Thursday before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Asked whether Clinton used the private server to shield her communications from the public as Republicans alleged, Comey responded, "Our best information is she set it up as a matter of convenience."
Clinton has claimed in the past that she used the server for convenience, but revelations about her practices and the number of devices she used have raised doubts about that. Comey said the investigation did not look at whether she had intent to evade the Freedom of Information Act.
He testified there was "not much" protecting the server, which was housed in Clinton's home, while typical email providers like Gmail have full-time security staffs keeping their security updated.
Although no evidence that the server was hacked was found, Comey noted that there would not necessarily be evidence if it was breached.
However, he denied specific claims by Romanian hacker Guccifer in TV interviews that he accessed Clinton's emails. Guccifer was interviewed by investigators and "he admitted that was a lie."
According to Comey, the FBI investigation did not develop evidence that Clinton or her staff intentionally violated the law.
He did note that between two and 10 people had access to the server who did not have security clearance, and Clinton's attorneys who reviewed her emails also did not have clearance.
"Should have known, must of known, had to know does not get you there," he said.
However, he said he is "reasonably confident" that some of the 30,000 emails deleted by Clinton's attorneys that they deemed as personal did contain classified information.
Comey also denied allegations by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump that the announcement was timed to benefit Clinton's campaign rally with President Obama Tuesday and that his recommendation was somehow the result of Clinton "bribing" the attorney general.
When Rep. John Mica (R-FL) suggested the timing of Comey's announcement was suspicious, Comey insisted there was no communication with the White House or attorney general about it.
"I did not coordinate that with anyone... Nobody outside the FBI family had any idea what I was about to say."
Comey explained that the investigation did find "evidence of great carelessness" but not proof that Clinton knew what she was doing may break the law. Republicans have suggested Clinton could be prosecuted for "gross negligence," but he said that statute has only been used once before.
He said the decision not to recommend charges for Clinton was made by "people who didn't give a hoot about politics" and it was unanimous.
"No reasonable prosecutor would bring the second case in 100 years focused on gross negligence," Comey said.
He declined to confirm or deny whether the FBI looked at or is currently investigating the Clinton Foundation.
Comey said there is no basis to believe Clinton lied to the FBI, but he is not "qualified" to say whether she lied to the public. He acknowledged several times that statements she made in public and before Congress about her email use turned out to be incorrect.
He suggested Clinton may not be "sophisticated enough" in her understanding of classification markings to recognize that paragraphs in three of her emails were marked as confidential. He later clarified that he meant she was not as "technically sophisticated" as people assume.
Those emails with the marked paragraphs did not have proper headings that identified them as classified, though, so he acknowledged it was "reasonable" that Clinton would not recognize them.
Chaffetz said Republicans would submit a referral to the FBI to investigate whether Clinton lied under oath when testifying before Congress last fall.
Pressed on whether the FBI would grant security clearance to someone who had behaved like Clinton, Comey said he could not address that hypothetical situation but "it would be a very important consideration in a suitability determination."
Comey repeatedly insisted that Clinton did not receive special treatment. Prosecuting Clinton, he argued, "would be treating somebody different because of their celebrity status," which he described as "celebrity-hunting," because it would not be fair to pursue charges with these facts.
"I'm highly confident there would not be criminal prosecution, no matter who it was," he said.
Chaffetz invited Comey to testify after he announced Tuesday that the FBI would not recommend criminal charges in connection with Clinton's email practices. In an unusual 15-minute public statement, Comey outlined "extremely careless" handling of classified information by Clinton and her aides, but he concluded that "no reasonable prosecutor" would pursue a criminal case.
"We're mystified and confused by the fact pattern you laid out and the conclusion that you reached," Chaffetz told Comey in his opening statement.
He alleged that there is a double standard in place and an average American "might be in handcuffs" if they did what Clinton did.
Ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said Comey had "a thankless task" in this investigation and any conclusion he reached would have generated controversy. Cummings accused Republicans of "using taxpayers money to continue investigating claims that have already been debunked, just to keep them in headlines for one more day."
"In their eyes, you had one job and one job only: to prosecute Hillary Clinton," Cummings said.
However, Cummings did acknowledge that there is a "gap" between Comey's statement and his conclusion that should be filled.
Comey defended the Republican inquiry of his investigation, saying he does not see it as having a "chilling effect" on the FBI.
"I agreed to come because I think the American people care deeply about this," he said, adding that he considers transparency essential.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who had said she would accept the recommendation of career investigators, announced Wednesday that the case will be closed without charges.
Lynch is also expected to face congressional questions about the investigation when she testifies before the House Judiciary Committee next week.