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The 10 biggest things we learned from the FBI’s Clinton email investigation

Short headlines quickly screamed out following Tuesday’s news conference from FBI director James Comey. But there was more in the former prosecutor’s 2,300-word statement about Hillary Clinton’s use of private email servers for official government business.

Here are the 10 biggest things we learned from the FBI’s Clinton email investigation:

Unusual transparency

“This will be an unusual statement… In this case, given the importance of the matter, I think unusual transparency is in order.”

The FBI does not usually lay out its recommendations and reasoning so publicly. But Comey felt it was imperative here to give credence to the investigation amid obvious political questions and pressure.

Several servers

“Secretary Clinton used several different servers and administrators of those servers during her four years at the State Department, and used numerous mobile devices to view and send e-mail on that personal domain.”

“Several servers” is new. The public has known for more than a year that Clinton and her staff used several private email accounts while she was secretary of state. But the existence of several physical servers, apparently rotating in and out as old units were replaced with new, is a fresh fact. Each server would contain different sets of data and, likely, different software for the FBI to investigate.

113 classified emails

“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. … With respect to the thousands of e-mails we found that were not among those produced to State, agencies have concluded that three of those were classified at the time they were sent or received.”

This is likely the final tally we will see of known email problems: A definitive 113 emails in Secretary Clinton’s private email accounts were classified at the time they were sent or received. Comey went on to say that of those classified emails, the largest amount were at the second-highest level of classification, “secret.”

Clinton’s lawyer problems

“The lawyers doing the sorting for Secretary Clinton in 2014 did not individually read the content of all of her e-mails… they relied on header information and used search terms.”

Here Comey spoke to the 30,000 emails that were deleted from Clinton’s account as “personal.” His point: determining what was personal and what was official was left to a team of lawyers who did not actually read the emails. In Comey’s words, “It is highly likely their search terms missed some work-related emails.” The FBI Director seemed to indicate this is one of the reasons that there is not proof that Clinton herself meant to deceive or delete official emails.

Clinton was extremely careless

“Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”

This is important in both directions. First, it reiterates the FBI’s central question: Is it clear that Clinton intentionally violated classification laws? The answer Comey found was no. But second, this statement does find her guilty of a non-criminal but significant charge: Being careless with highly classified material.

Clinton sent classified email, should have known

“…These chains involved Secretary Clinton both sending e-mails about those (classified) matters and receiving e-mails from others … There is evidence to support a conclusion that any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position … should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation.”

Until now, it has not been entirely clear that Clinton *sent*, and didn’t just receive classified email. In addition, Comey has made it clear that she should have known this was inappropriate.

Sophisticated adversaries

“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.”

Note especially Comey’s words that Clinton used her private, officially unsecured email server for work while in the “territory of sophisticated adversaries.” Comey did not say that a specific “hostile actor” accessed Clinton’s email account, but he did say it was certainly possible.

No charges recommended

“Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case. … All the cases prosecuted involved some combination of: clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information; or vast quantities of materials exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct; or indications of disloyalty to the United States; or efforts to obstruct justice. We do not see those things here.”

This quote speaks for itself. Comey did not see evidence of either specific “intentional and willful mishandling” or a large enough amount of mishandling to imply that intent.

No charges, but should there have been consequences?

“… this is not to suggest that in similar circumstances, a person who engaged in this activity would face no consequences. To the contrary, those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions. But that is not what we are deciding now.”

Comey here made it clear that other government officials in similar circumstances are subject to reprimand or punishment.

Opinions are irrelevant

“Opinions are irrelevant, and they were all uninformed by insight into our investigation, because we did the investigation the right way. Only facts matter, and the FBI found them here in an entirely apolitical and professional way. I couldn’t be prouder to be part of this organization.”

This is Comey’s final statement. As he acknowledged the likely avalanche of questions about the outcome, Comey staunchly insisted the investigation was based solely on fact. He was clearly aware that some, like, House Speaker Paul Ryan, would disagree with his conclusion.

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