WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton asserted Friday that FBI Director James Comey said she was truthful in her statements to investigators about her private server and use of private emails — and that those statements were consistent with what she has said publicly. But Comey made no such blanket assessment.
He actually questioned the accuracy of some of her public statements and said only that investigators had “no basis to conclude she lied to the FBI,” whatever she told other people.
Clinton tried to use her appearance at a joint session of associations of black and Hispanic journalists to defuse a mounting controversy over her recent remarks about her emails. Over the past week, she cited Comey’s public comments from last month to demonstrate she was truthful about her private email use and had not put at risk classified information in the messages she sent and received.
What resulted Friday were still more mischaracterizations.
Clinton’s comments about her email use have shifted over time. When she first acknowledged the use of private emails in March 2015, Clinton said: “I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email. There is no classified material.”
She later shifted her explanation to say she never sent or received “any emails marked classified at the time.”
Comey debunked that assertion in July. He said FBI investigators found that 113 emails from Clinton’s server contained classified information that had been secret at the time it was sent or received. Many more emails contained sensitive information but were marked classified only later.
On “Fox News Sunday,” Clinton said, “Director Comey said my answers were truthful and what I’ve said is consistent with what I have told the American people.” This, despite Comey’s earlier statement to Congress that her public statement about classified material was “not true.”
On Friday, Clinton said she wanted to clarify her recent remarks and acknowledged she had “short-circuited” what she intended to say. But her intended clarification was yet another short circuit of the public record.
Video by PBS NewsHour
CLINTON: “I have said during the interview and in many other occasions over the past months that what I told the FBI, which he said was truthful, is consistent with what I have said publicly.”
THE FACTS: Comey has declined to say precisely what Clinton told FBI investigators, but he has never publicly called Clinton’s comments truthful. He said only that “we have no basis to conclude that she lied to the FBI” — a legally calibrated statement that explained only that investigators did not find any evidence that she was lying to them.
When Comey was asked during a House hearing the same month about whether Clinton lied to the public, Comey begged off, saying: “That’s a question I’m not qualified to answer. I can speak only about what she said to the FBI.”
CLINTON: “And so what we have here is pretty much what I have been saying throughout this whole year and that is that I never sent or received anything that was marked classified.”
THE FACTS: At the July House hearing, Comey was asked about Clinton’s public statements that there was “nothing marked classified” in the private emails she sent or received. Comey replied, “That’s not true,” and added, “there was classified material emailed.”
In the hearing last month, Comey said three marked emails had a “C” mark at the time they were sent or received by Clinton, which would have indicated their classified nature. He also said other emails deleted from Clinton’s server also probably had classified markings at the time.
Clinton said Friday that the three emails cited by Comey “did not have the appropriate markings” and as a result, “it was therefore reasonable to conclude that anyone, including myself, would not have suspected that they were classified.”
Clinton seized on a later State Department statement that in two of the emails, the agency found that the classification markings made at the time had been made in error. And she said Comey’s own statements during the July hearing showed “there was absolutely no intention on my part to either ignore or in any way dismiss the importance of those documents.”
But Comey’s statement last month was not so assertive.
Comey said that it was “possible that she didn’t understand what a ‘C’ meant when she saw it in the body of the email like that.”
Overall, he described her handling of “very sensitive, highly classified information” as “extremely careless.”