FBI not to press charges against Clinton over 'careless' email use

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey said on Tuesday that his agency will not recommend criminal charges against presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server as secretary of state, but called Clinton and her staff "extremely careless" in handling classified material.

According to The Washington Post, the announcement was stunning both for the level of detail Comey provided about an investigation that he ultimately believes should conclude without charges, and for the fact that the FBI director publicized his guidance before federal prosecutors had reached a final determination.

As he was about to proclaim that the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee should not be charged, Comey said officials at the Justice Department "do not know what I am about to say". But he said he felt the American people deserved to know the details of an investigation that had dogged her campaign.

"Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case," Comey said. He said that while the ultimate decision would be left up to Justice Department prosecutors, the FBI was expressing its view "that no charges are appropriate in this case."

The decision effectively means that Clinton will not have to fear criminal liability as her campaign moves forward, though Comey levelled sharp criticism at her past email practices and called into question many of her defences.

The FBI director said those who acted as Clinton and her staffers did were "often subject to security or administrative sanctions", though in comparing her case with similar investigations in the past, the bureau did not find any of the aggravating factors that typically lead to criminal charges.

"Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information," he said, speaking at FBI headquarters.

Comey also broadly criticized the handling of classified information on unclassified email systems at the State Department, saying investigators found evidence that the "security culture" there was "generally lacking in the kind of care for classified information" at other government agencies.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said, "We don't share that assessment." But he added that the department is "always looking for ways to improve".

A spokesman for the US Attorney's office in the eastern district of Virginia, whose prosecutors are involved in the case, declined to comment. A Justice Department spokeswoman said she was preparing a possible response.

Hillary for America campaign spokesman Brian Fallon said in a statement, "We are pleased that the career officials handling this case have determined that no further action by the department is appropriate. As the secretary has long said, it was a mistake to use her personal email and she would not do it again. We are glad that this matter is now resolved."

Comey said investigators had sifted through 30,000 emails Clinton provided to the State Department for public release and several thousand more determined to be work-related that Clinton did not turn over. They were looking, he said, at whether classified information was improperly stored or transmitted on a personal system in such a way that it might have violated two federal statutes. One, he said, makes it a felony to mishandle classified information in an intentional or grossly negligent way, and the other makes it a misdemeanor to knowingly remove classified information from appropriate systems or storage facilities.

Investigators, Comey said, discovered significant carelessness, but they did not find - as in other cases that went forward - intentional mishandling of classified information, indications of disloyalty to the United States or efforts to obstruct justice.

The announcement came only about 72 hours after FBI agents interviewed Clinton, and only about a week after former president Bill Clinton had a meeting with US Attorney General Loretta Lynch aboard her plane. Both Lynch and Bill Clinton, through a representative, asserted the conversation was unplanned and social, though it sparked significant outrage.

On Friday, Lynch announced that she would accept recommendations from career prosecutors and FBI agents leading the probe - including Comey - in a bid to quell concerns about the independence of the probe. Comey's announcement, though, immediately sparked criticism that the outcome of the high-profile probe was a foregone conclusion, influenced heavily by politics.