“Extremely careless.” That’s a label no candidate for public office wants to carry into the homestretch of a campaign — especially a candidate already struggling to build trust with voters.
Hillary Clinton will have to live with the astounding mistakes in judgment she made while serving as secretary of state; even before Tuesday, her poll numbers reflected the unease of Americans trying to reconcile her often-substantial record of public service with the amateurish incompetence of her handling of sensitive e-mail as the nation’s top diplomat.
But apparently Clinton will not have to deal with criminal charges for her use of personal e-mail servers. Despite a scathing report to the nation on Tuesday after his agency’s yearlong investigation, FBI Director James Comey made it clear that “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring a case against Clinton, because there is no evidence that she intentionally sent or received classified information.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch, herself a recent target of criticism after an apparently impromptu meeting with former President Bill Clinton, said Friday that she would accept the recommendations of the FBI and career prosecutors in the case. So unless Lynch reverses course, the darkest cloud hanging over the Hillary Clinton campaign — the possibility of an indictment — has cleared up.
But the fact that Clinton likely will not face charges does not mean she did nothing wrong. As Comey described, she recklessly disregarded national interest in her handling of sensitive information. The FBI director said that despite Clinton’s assertions that she did not send or receive any information marked as classified at the time it was sent, about two dozen e-mails in question were considered “top secret” — the government’s top level of classification.
In addition, “from the group of 30,000 e-mails returned [by Clinton] to the State Department, 100 e-mails in 52 e-mail chains have been determined by the owning agency to contain classified information at the time they were sent or received,” Comey said Tuesday. Those findings are an indictment of Clinton’s honesty, because she initially said she never sent or received classified e-mail using personal servers.
It’s also damning that the FBI found “several thousand” work-related e-mails in addition to the 30,000 that Clinton returned to the State Department in 2014. Her lawyers had maintained that the 30,000 e-mails made up all of her work-related messages as secretary of state. Chillingly, the FBI also found that Clinton sent and received work e-mails while in the “territory of sophisticated adversaries” outside of the U.S., making it possible — although no specific evidence of hacking was found — that “hostile actors” gained access to her e-mail account.
In one of the least-surprising conclusions, Comey said the FBI found the State Department’s security “lacking in the kind of care for classified information found elsewhere in the government.” And in a more specific rebuke of Clinton’s handling of sensitive government information, he said the FBI found “evidence to support a conclusion that any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position, or in the position of those government employees with whom she was corresponding about these matters, should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation.”
Expect Donald Trump to draw on Comey’s findings repeatedly between now and November. The likely Republican nominee took to Twitter on Tuesday to voice his displeasure over the FBI’s recommendation, saying: “The system is rigged …”
Americans have no reason to question Comey’s independence or credibility, however. The Obama appointee served in the Justice Department in the George W. Bush administration and, at the time of his appointment, Politico reported that he was a registered Republican who had contributed to both the McCain and Romney campaigns.
Clinton’s credibility is fair game, though, and that’s nothing new. Even before Comey’s condemnation, 69 percent of respondents to an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll in June said they were concerned that Clinton has a record or a reputation as untrustworthy. That same month, 62 percent of respondents in a CBS News poll said she was not honest, while 33 percent said she was. (Trump fared just as poorly, at 63 percent and 32 percent, respectively.)
Between now and Election Day, voters will have to decide whether Clinton’s attributes and policy prescriptions outweigh her record of cutting corners and ignoring the rules — a pattern that became even more problematic with the release of the FBI’s findings.