Republicans press FBI chief over lack of consequence for Clinton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - FBI Director James Comey told U.S. lawmakers on Thursday that FBI employees who mishandled classified material in the way Hillary Clinton did as secretary of state could be subject to dismissal or loss of security clearance.

Director James Comey is sworn in before testifying at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on the "Oversight of the State Department" in Washington U.S. July 7, 2016. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - FBI Director James Comey told U.S. lawmakers on Thursday that FBI employees who mishandled classified material in the way Hillary Clinton did as secretary of state could be subject to dismissal or loss of security clearance.

Comey addressed the issue at a House of Representatives committee hearing after House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a letter to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper that Clinton should be denied classified briefings during her campaign for the presidency.

Comey, who on Tuesday said he would not recommend that Clinton face criminal charges, was asked at the hearing if Clinton should face administrative punishment for the way she handled her email and responded, "I don't think that's for me to recommend."

He did say that his employees in the Federal Bureau of Investigation would face discipline for the same behavior.

โ€œThey might get fired, they might lose their clearance, it might get suspended for 30 days," Comey said. "There would be some discipline."


Presidential candidates normally get access to classified information once they are formally nominated and as director of the FBI, Comey does not have the authority to revoke Clinton's security privileges.

A Clinton spokesman said Republicans' efforts to deny her the briefings was "another blatantly political stunt."

Comey, under persistent questioning at the hearing of the House Oversight Committee, said Clinton did not break the law.

"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 keeping her email server at her home in Chappaqua, New York, was unauthorized.

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


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 email 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."

The hearing took place as Trump met with Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill to get them behind his candidacy, discussing a variety of issues, including his campaign style.

"I'm going to make you proud," Trump told House Republicans, according to a participant, Representative Tom Flores.

Ryan, who has been critical of Trump at times, said Trump and Republican House members had "a great meeting."


Comey's testimony marked the first time he has taken questions publicly since his announcement this week that the FBI was not recommending charges against Clinton. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch accepted the FBI recommendation and was to appear at another hearing next Tuesday.

Comey said on Tuesday that 110 classified emails 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.


By Julia Edwards and David Alexander


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