There are numerous indicators that the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email system is criminal in nature. First and foremost is a federal judge’s statement on Tuesday that the bureau is conducting a “criminal investigation” into whether classified information was mishandled on Clinton’s private email server.
But the Democratic presidential candidate has yet to publicly acknowledge the full criminal nature of the probe. And the “Email Facts” section of her campaign website still maintains that the FBI is conducting a mere “security review” and not an investigation of any kind.
“Is Department of Justice conducting a criminal inquiry into Clinton’s email use?” reads one entry on the campaign’s “Email Facts” page.
The response reads:
No. As the Department of Justice and Inspectors General made clear, the IGs made a security referral. This was not criminal in nature as misreported by some in the press. The Department of Justice is now seeking assurances about the storage of materials related to Clinton’s email account.
That claim is at stark odds with a ruling issued on Tuesday by U.S. District Court judge Emmet Sullivan in a Judicial Watch lawsuit against the State Department.
Sullivan, a Bill Clinton appointee, called the FBI’s probe a “criminal investigation” in response to a motion filed by attorneys for Bryan Pagliano, the former State Department IT adviser who maintained Clinton’s server.
Sullivan approved the lawyers’ motion, which sought to keep Pagliano’s limited immunity with the FBI under wraps. Pagliano was first interviewed by the FBI in December. He has since said he will invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in an upcoming deposition with the watchdog group Judicial Watch.
In papers explaining the need to plead the Fifth, Pagliano’s attorneys said that the Justice Department could potentially bring a criminal action against the former Clinton aide.
Sullivan’s characterization of the Clinton investigation as criminal comes a week after White House press secretary Josh Earnest used the same terminology during a daily press briefing. (RELATED: White House: FBI Investigation Into Hillary Is ‘Criminal’)
In July, after “top secret” emails were found on Clinton’s server, the inspectors general for the State Department and Intelligence Community made a “security referral” to the FBI. The New York Times came under heavy fire for an article which initially called the referral a criminal one. The newspaper issued a correction.
But that security referral appears to have morphed into something more in the months that followed.
The recognition that the FBI’s probe is criminal in nature has come in spurts. Last month, FBI director James Comey undermined Clinton’s claim that the inquiry was not an investigation.” (RELATED: FBI Director Disputes Hillary’s Claim That Email Probe Is Just A ‘Security Inquiry’)
“It’s in our name. I’m not familiar with the term ‘security inquiry,'” he told reporters while promising to carry out the investigation without political influence.
A spokesman for the Republican National Committee responded to Sullivan’s characterization of the criminal probe.
“This is the latest evidence Hillary Clinton has been misleading voters about the nature of the investigation into her illicit email server which exposed classified material and jeopardized our national security,” RNC spokesman Michael Short said in a statement. “Hillary Clinton’s reckless conduct and dishonest attempts to avoid accountability show she cannot be trusted in the White House.”