FBI director says Clinton did not lie, break law in e-mail handling

FBI Director James Comey at the Department of Justice in Washington, DC, on June 28, 2016.
FBI Director James Comey at the Department of Justice in Washington, DC, on June 28, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - FBI Director James Comey told lawmakers on Thursday that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton did not lie to the FBI about her handling of e-mails as secretary of state and did not break the law.

Comey told a Republican-led oversight panel in the US House of Representatives that no reasonable prosecutor would charge Clinton with a crime over her use of private e-mail servers while she was secretary of state, some of which were used to transmit classified information.

"The question I always look at is, is there evidence that would establish beyond a reasonable doubt that somebody engaged in conducted that violated a criminal statute. And my judgment here is there is not," Comey said.

The issue of Clinton's use of private email servers has cast a cloud over her campaign leading up to the Nov 8 presidential election, raising questions among voters about her trustworthiness and judgment and giving her Republican presidential rival, Donald Trump, an avenue of attack.

Comey also said Clinton knew that her e-mail server at her home in Chappaqua, New York, was not authorised to receive classified information.

But Clinton may not have had sufficiently sophisticated understanding to know the e-mails that passed through her personal server were classified, Comey said. Only three of the 30,000 FBI-reviewed e-mails were explicitly marked as classified and those were marked with a "C" in the body of the e-mail, not in the header, he said.

Comey said his FBI team had conducted its investigation of Clinton "in an apolitical and professional way" and he had no reason to believe she had lied to the FBI. Clinton had said publicly she never sent or received any classified information.

In response to Comey's testimony, the Clinton campaign said it "clearly knocked down a number of false Republican talking points".

Comey had disappointed some Republicans by only rebuking Clinton, not recommending charges against her, in a Tuesday announcement for what he called "extremely careless" handling of classified information while using private e-mail servers.

"I think there is a legitimate concern that there is a double standard, if your name isn't Clinton or you are not part of the powerful elite that Lady Justice will act differently," Representative Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said to Comey at the beginning of the hearing.

A Democratic member of the committee, Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, defended Comey's actions by saying: "I firmly believe your decision was based on conviction, not convenience."

Comey said on Tuesday that 110 classified e-mails passed through Clinton's servers, which were not kept on a secure government server. He rebuked her for "extremely careless" handling of classified information but said no reasonable prosecutor would charge her or her staff criminally.

Comey, a Republican who was appointed by Democratic President Barack Obama and also served in the administration of former Republican President George W Bush, has built a reputation as a straight shooter who does not bend to pressure from either party.

He has differed sharply with the Obama administration, including over the case of General David Petraeus, who pleaded guilty after he knowingly shared classified information with his biographer and lover. Comey recommended Petraeus be charged with a felony but then-Attorney General Eric Holder downgraded the charge to a misdemeanor.