The FBI said Tuesday it will not recommend charges over Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state, but said she had been “extremely careless” in her handling of top secret data.
The decision not to recommend prosecution will come as a huge relief for the presumptive Democratic nominee whose White House campaign has been dogged by the months-long probe.
“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,” FBI director James Comey told a news conference.
“Although the Department of Justice makes final decisions on matters like this, we are expressing to Justice our view that no charges are appropriate in this case,” he said.
Comey made the extraordinary disclosure as he announced that the FBI had wrapped up its investigation and was now handing over to the Justice Department which will decide whether to prosecute.
“In this case, given the importance of the matter, I think unusual transparency is in order,” he said.
“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 information that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information,” Comey said.
In particular, he said, “we assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal email account.”
Clinton has apologized for exclusively using a private email account and her own server during her time as secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.
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Opponents argue that this breached rules about protecting classified documents from cyber attack and may have amounted to a crime.
The former first lady was interviewed for more than three hours by the FBI over the weekend.
Clinton came under renewed fire after it emerged that her husband Bill met briefly with Attorney General Loretta Lynch at an airport in Arizona last week — prompting Republicans to cry foul over possible government interference with the email probe.
Lynch pledged in response to respect FBI and prosecutors’ decisions on whether to bring charges in the case.
Comey acknowledged the intense public scrutiny weighing on the investigation.
“I know there will be intense public debate in the wake of this recommendation as there was throughout the investigation,” he said.
“What I can assure the American people is that this investigation was done honestly, competently and independently. No outside influence of any kind was brought to bear.”