(WASHINGTON) — In a message to his workforce Tuesday, FBI Director James Comey further defended his decision not to press charges against Hillary Clinton over her use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state.
“I hope you see clearly what I see, that this investigation was done honestly, independently, and competently,” Comey said in a video message to FBI personnel, according to one government employee who recounted the message to ABC News. “For investigators and their supervisors, all the way up to me, the decision was not only the right one, it actually wasn’t that hard a decision given the facts and the law.”
In fact, Comey said, “What I don’t have patience for is people suggesting that the FBI did it in some way that was anything other than apolitical and independent, because that’s just not true and anybody who knows the FBI should know better.”
Comey has spent recent weeks defending his decision before lawmakers, reporters and the public in general.
Earlier this month, he told a House panel that the question of whether to bring charges against Clinton was “not a cliffhanger,” reiterating his belief that “no reasonable prosecutor” would have brought an indictment in the case.
In trying to explain his decision to lawmakers, Comey told a House panel that two things matter in such a criminal probe: “What did the person do … and when they did it — did they know they were doing something that was unlawful?”
“When I look at the facts we gathered here … I see evidence of great carelessness, but I do not see evidence sufficient to establish that Secretary Clinton or those with whom she was corresponding both talked about classified information on email and knew when they did it that they were doing something that was against the law,” Comey said earlier this month. “No reasonable prosecutor would bring this case.”
Comey has called Clinton and her aides “extremely careless” for their handling of classified information, and he has acknowledged that U.S. law makes it a crime to exhibit even “gross negligence” in dealing with such sensitive material. But testifying before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Comey said the Justice Department has used the law only once in the statute’s 99-year existence — in a case involving espionage — and there has long been “grave concerns” among prosecutors that using the law could violate the “American tradition” of only jailing people who knew they were engaging in illegal activity.
“No reasonable prosecutor would bring the second case in 100 years focused on ‘gross negligence,’” Comey told the committee on July 7. “That’s just the way it is. … Nobody would. Nobody did.”
Nevertheless, the panel’s chairman, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said he is “mystified” and “confused” by Comey’s decision, insisting “the average Joe” believes that if they had “sloppily” handled classified information like Clinton did, “they’d be in handcuffs.”
According to Chaffetz, the message being sent is: “If your name isn’t Clinton or you aren’t part of the powerful elite, that Lady Justice will act differently.”
Comey dismissed such criticism, saying the decision was made by career agents and high-level prosecutors who “who didn’t give a hoot about politics, but who cared about what are the facts, what is the law and how have similar people — all people — been treated in the past.”
In his message to FBI employees Tuesday, Comey called these “difficult circumstances at difficult times.” But he said the FBI is “looking pretty darn good” thanks to the agency’s work overall.
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