FBI demolishes Hillary Clinton’s email defense

Published 10:18 PM EDT, Tue July 5, 2016
02:03 - Source: CNN
Watch the FBI refute Clinton email claims

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It's not a criminal indictment, but the FBI effectively issued a public indictment in Clinton email case, writes Douglas Cox

The last remnants of Clinton's defense of her actions was demolished by FBI director, Cox says

Editor’s Note: Douglas Cox is an associate professor at the City University of New York School of Law. The views expressed are his own.

CNN —  

While headlines about FBI Director James Comey’s unprecedented announcement Tuesday largely focus on the agency recommending no charges against Hillary Clinton, the director’s statement was a stinging public indictment of Clinton, her aides, and even her attorneys. While many had already concluded that charges were unlikely, the FBI investigation revealed new facts that illustrate that the possibility of criminal charges was closer than the public knew.

Douglas Cox
Douglas Cox

Indeed, anyone who would conclude that the result is a “victory” for Clinton only heard half the FBI statement. In the same breath that Comey stated the FBI recommended no charges, he noted that the FBI found “evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information.”

And while noting that the investigation did not find “clear evidence” that “Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information,” the FBI nevertheless found “evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information” and assessed it “possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal e-mail account.”

Finally, the FBI concluded that Clinton and her lawyers failed to provide the State Department with all work-related emails and likely destroyed federal records.

The last remnants of Clinton’s public defense

When the controversy over her private email server began, Clinton issued broad and unequivocal assertions that the emails contained on her private server contained no classified information and that she had handed over all federal records to the State Department. While the release of information and emails had slowly whittled away at this defense, Tuesday’s statement from the FBI director destroyed its remaining vestiges.

Despite Clinton’s repeated references to the FBI investigation as simply a “security review,” for example, Comey’s statement makes it clear that this was a criminal investigation and that Clinton was one of the targets.

While Clinton had already abandoned her broad assertions that her emails contained no classified information, Clinton had continued to maintain that at least nothing she sent or received was “marked” as classified. Yet Comey confirmed that even this was wrong, noting that there were emails that “bore markings indicating the presence of classified information,” although there were only a “very small number” of them.

Comey further undercut Clinton’s defense by stressing that Clinton had an obligation to protect even unmarked classified information and that a reasonable person in Clinton’s situation should have known information in her emails was classified.

In all, 110 emails in 52 email chains were determined to have included classified information at the time they were sent or received. They were not simply retroactively classified, as Clinton had claimed. Among these, eight chains of email contained “Top Secret” information, a classification the law limits to information whose unauthorized disclosure could be expected to cause “exceptionally grave damage to the national security.”