Over the course of about 14 minutes, FBI director James Comey verbally gutted Hillary Clinton’s favorite defenses of her private email server. It’s now clear that a host of arguments she’s made to defend herself are not based in fact.
And though Comey said he will not recommend that the Department of Justice prosecute her, he made clear that she and her surrogates spent the past year making arguments that simply weren’t true.
Comey opened a no-questions press conference announcing his recommendation by ripping into Clinton’s first line of defense: that she never knowingly sent nor received classified information.
Since news broke in March 2015 of her use of a personal server, she has held that she didn’t use it to send or receive emails containing classified information.
“Whether it was a personal account or a government account, I did not send classified material,” she said in a Las Vegas press conference on Aug. 18, 2015, “and I did not receive any material that was marked or designated classified, which is the way you know whether something is.”
In a speech at the United Nations on March 10, 2015, she made the same claim.
“I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email,” she said then. “So I’m certainly well-aware of the classification requirements and did not send classified material.”
That isn’t true. In his statement today, Comey said that email chains that passed through her server “involved Secretary Clinton both sending emails about those matters and receiving emails from others about the same matters”—meaning, he noted, matters at Top Secret/Special Access Program classification level. That classification level is among the highest in the U.S. government, and covering some of the nation’s most valued intelligence matters. Comey said dozens of Clinton’s other email chains contained emails at lower classification levels, as well.
Clinton has long held that no emails with information marked as classified passed through her server—a claim she repeated on Sunday on Meet the Press, the day after the FBI interviewed her as part of its investigation.
That claim is also incorrect.
“Only a very small number of the emails containing classified information bore markings indicating the presence of classified information,” Comey said—confirming that her key defense isn’t accurate. “But even if information is not marked ‘classified’ in an email, participants who know or should know that the subject matter is classified are still obligated to protect it.”
Left unstated: that Clinton and her team failed to uphold that obligation.
Clinton has also defended herself by saying the server was secure.
“It was on property guarded by the Secret Service, and there were no security breaches,” she said at the UN. “So, I think that the—the use of that server, which started with my husband, certainly proved to be effective and secure.”
Comey didn’t buy it, saying she “used her personal email extensively while outside the United States, including sending and receiving work-related emails in the territory of sophisticated adversaries.”
Comey also said that “hostile actors” accessed the accounts of people she emailed with from her private server, and that her use of a personal email account was widely known.
“Given that combination of factors, we assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal email account,” he said.
Comey also made clear that Clinton wasn’t correct when she told reporters—again, at the UN on March 10, 2015—that she had “absolute confidence that everything that could be in any way connected to work is now in the possession of the State Department.”
That “absolute confidence” was misplaced. And Comey said Clinton’s lawyers probably failed to turn over all the work-related emails that passed through her server.
“It is highly likely their search terms missed some work-related emails, and that we later found them, for example, in the mailboxes of other officials or in the slack space of a server,” he said. “It is also likely that there are other work-related emails that they did not produce to State and that we did not find elsewhere, and that are now gone because they deleted all emails they did not return to State, and the lawyers cleaned their devices in such a way as to preclude complete forensic recovery.”
And Comey eviscerated another argument Clinton and her backers regularly make: that her mistake is understandable, and could have happened to anyone.
For instance, she said at the Fox News Democratic town hall on March 7, 2016, that “many people in the government, past and current, have on occasion or as a practice done the same.”
Comey’s statement leaves no room for Clinton to make that defense. Citing her emails regarding information classified at the Top Secret/Special Access Program level, he said that “any reasonable person… should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation.”
Comey also criticized the State Department for having institution-wide cultural problems regarding classified information. So Clinton wasn’t alone in failing to meet her obligations, and wasn’t the only person at State who could be ripped for being “extremely careless.”
So despite the fact that Comey didn’t recommend that Department of Justice prosecutors indict Clinton, he picked apart her defense of her decisions about the email. Poll after poll shows voters see her as dishonest and untrustworthy—and today’s news won’t fix that.