While FBI Director James Comey announced in a surprise press conference on Tuesday that he will recommend that charges not be filed against Hillary Clinton and her aides for mishandling classified information, the Obama appointee torched talking points that the former secretary of state has used in defense of her email practices.
Clinton talking point No. 1: Her emails were not classified
Clinton has in the past said that her emails were not classified when they were sent and received. Her campaign has also questioned the integrity of the Intelligence Community’s inspector general, which assessed last year that some of Clinton’s emails were classified at the “Top Secret” level when they were originated. (RELATED: Clinton Campaign Spokesman Questions Intel Community IG’s Integrity)
But Comey settled the question in decisive fashion on Tuesday, demolishing Clinton’s claims.
“From the group of 30,000 e-mails returned to the State Department, 110 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.
“Top Secret” information was contained in eight of those email chains. “Secret” information was in 36 chains, and eight held “confidential” information.
Clinton talking point No. 2: She returned all work-related emails
Comey said that Clinton failed to turn over “several thousand” work-related emails to the State Department in December 2014.
[dcquiz] The undermines the former secretary of state’s repeated assertion that she did turn over all such records.
“The FBI also discovered several thousand work-related e-mails that were not in the group of 30,000 that were returned by Secretary Clinton to State in 2014,” Comey said, adding that the additional emails were recovered “in a variety of ways.”
Clinton has claimed that she was over-inclusive in deciding which emails to return to the State Department.
“In providing these emails to the Department, Clinton included all she had that were even potentially work-related—including emails about using a fax machine or asking for iced tea during a meeting — erring on the side of over-inclusion,” her campaign website reads.
Comey said that some of Clinton’s missing work emails had been deleted. Traces of those records were found on devices that Clinton used over the years. Others were recovered from archived records of other government employees’ email accounts. Still more were found in the form of email fragments dumped into what Comey called the “slack space” of the server that Clinton decommissioned after she left office in 2013.
Three of the work-related emails that Clinton failed to turn over to State contained classified information, according to Comey.
One contained “Secret” information and two held confidential information.
Comey did say that investigators found no evidence that those additional emails were “intentionally deleted in an effort to conceal them.”
“Our assessment is that, like many e-mail users, Secretary Clinton periodically deleted e-mails or e-mails were purged from the system when devices were changed,” he said.
Clinton talking point No. 3: Classified emails were not “marked” classified
As evidence mounted last year that Clinton sent and received classified information, she adopted a new defense: the classified emails were not “marked” as such when Clinton sent and received them, she said.
“No information in Clinton’s emails was marked classified at the time she sent or received them,” Clinton says on her campaign website.
But Comey laid out the case that Clinton should have known that classified information was classified regardless of whether it was marked as such.
“Even if information is not marked ‘classified’ in an e-mail, participants who know or should know that the subject matter is classified are still obligated to protect it,” he said.
Comey’s statement backs up the finding last year that Clinton signed a government form when she took office in which she acknowledged that there is no distinction between “marked” and “unmarked” classified information. (RELATED: Document Completely Undermines Clinton’s Classified Email Defense)
In fact, the FBI director hinted that some of Clinton’s emails contained classified markings.
“Only a very small number of the e-mails containing classified information bore markings indicating the presence of classified information,” he said.
Clinton talking point No. 4: She took the security of her email system seriously
Comey contradicted Clinton’s claims that she and her staff took seriously the job of securing her emails and server.
The FBI director noted that Clinton’s setup, which was maintained by State Department information technology specialist Bryan Pagliano, did not have the kind of full-time support staff that it merited.
“None of these e-mails should have been on any kind of unclassified system, but their presence is especially concerning because all of these e-mails were housed on unclassified personal servers not even supported by full-time security staff, like those found at Departments and Agencies of the U.S. Government — or even with a commercial service like Gmail,” Comey said.
But on her website, Clinton’s campaign states: “The security and integrity of her family’s electronic communications was taken seriously from the onset when it was first set up for President Clinton’s team.”
Clinton was so careless with protecting her communications that she often used email while visiting countries highly developed spy capabilities.
“She also used her personal e-mail extensively while outside the United States, including sending and receiving work-related e-mails in the territory of sophisticated adversaries. Given that combination of factors, we assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal e-mail account,” Comey said.
Comey said that investigators did not find “direct evidence” that Clinton’s email domain was “successfully hacked.” But he added that sophisticated actors would likely not leave direct evidence of breaches.
Clinton talking point No. 5: It was a “security review” rather than a criminal investigation
Comey has already exposed Clinton’s claim that the FBI’s probe was a mere “security review.” Earlier this year he told reporters that he was not familiar with the term and that the FBI’s name includes the word “investigation.”
But Clinton and her allies took advantage of the fact that neither Comey nor any other federal law enforcement official had explicitly stated that the investigation was criminal in nature.
“Is Department of Justice conducting a criminal inquiry into Clinton’s email use?” reads a question on Clinton’s website.
[dcquiz] “No,” reads the response. “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.”
But in announcing that he would be recommending that no charges should be filed against Clinton, Comey indicated that the investigation had been a criminal one all along.
“In looking back at our investigations into mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts,” he said.
Clinton talking point No. 6: Her lawyers read through all of her emails
Clinton’s campaign has claimed that her attorneys read through all of the 60,000-plus emails stored on her server before deciding which to delete and which to turn over to the State Department.
“Every one of the more than 60,000 emails were read,” Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill told Time last March.
Comey threw cold water all over that idea on Tuesday.
“The lawyers doing the sorting for Secretary Clinton in 2014 did not individually read the content of all of her emails, as we did for those available to us,” he said.
Clinton’s lawyers, which included at least two of her State Department colleagues, “relied on header information and used search terms” in an attempt to pick out work-related emails.
The campaign gave the State Department more than 30,000 of the emails Clinton’s lawyers claimed were work-related. The other half were deleted.
This article has been updated with additional information.