In his first public appearance since announcing on Tuesday that the FBI would not recommend prosecuting Hillary Clinton over her use of a private email server as secretary of state, agency director James Comey defended his decision before the House Oversight Committee on Thursday.
Although the FBI and the Department of Justice have foregone prosecution, Comey described Clinton’s actions “extremely careless” and said that “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring an indictment. In his opening statement, the ranking Democrat on the committee, Representative Elijah Cummings, said the point of the hearing was for Comey to “fill the gap.”
Cummings went on to ask Comey to explain why General David Petraeus, the former CIA director who plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified information, was prosecuted for his misconduct while Clinton was not.
“Clearly intentional conduct. Knew what he was doing was violation of the law,” Comey said. “Huge amounts of information. If you couldn’t prove he knew it, raises the inference [that] he did it and effort to obstruct justice. That combination of things makes it worthy of a prosecution. A misdemeanor prosecution, but a prosecution nonetheless.” Comey also denied that the Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the Department of Justice, or the FBI had been influenced by a “bribe” from Clinton, as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has alleged.
Representative Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the committee, asked Comey directly whether Clinton lied under oath about her email practices. “We have no basis to conclude she lied to the FBI,” the director responded. Apparently baffled by such a specific response to a vague question, Chaffetz said that he would ask the FBI to investigate whether Clinton lied to Congress.
According to Comey, while Clinton did make statements that proved to be untrue, the case did not warrant the Justice Department’s second prosecution on charges of “gross negligence” in a century. “I know that’s been a source of some confusion for folks,” Comey testified. “That’s just the way it is. I know the Department of Justice, I know no reasonable prosecutor would bring this case.”
Chaffetz and other Republican representatives repeatedly tried to corner Comey on the issue of whether an employee of the FBI, who was found to have conducted themselves similarly to Clinton, would have his or her security clearances revoked. Comey was clearly reluctant to engage in such a hypothetical, but acknowledged that there would be “consequences.”
“Amazingly, some Republicans who were praising you just days ago... instantly turned against you,” Representative Cummings said at one point. “In their eyes, you had one job and one job only, to prosecute Hillary Clinton.”
Indeed, Representative Chaffetz, whose government-issued business cards list his personal Gmail account, had only nice things to say about Comey just weeks before his Tuesday announcement. As The Huffington Post points out, in a June 6 appearance on Fox News Chaffetz described Comey as “a man of integrity and honesty.”
“His finger is on the pulse of this,” Chaffetz added. “Nothing happens without him, and I think he is going to be the definitive person to make a determination or a recommendation.” Asked whether Republicans would accept a recommendation from the FBI not to prosecute Clinton, Chaffetz said, “Oh, probably. Because we do believe in James Comey.”