Did Clinton get off easy? House committee grills FBI’s Comey

James Comey appeared before the House Oversight Committee, where Republicans pressed the FBI chief on the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email use and private servers as secretary of state. While Comey said Clinton’s actions might have deserved some kind of punishment, it did not warrant criminal prosecution. Lisa Desjardins reports.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    We turn now to another high-profile story of this day, where the U.S. justice system is being questioned, but for different reasons.

    Lisa Desjardins has that.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Republicans today opened a new stage in the debate over Hillary Clinton's e-mails, with the House Oversight Committee.

    REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), Utah, Chairman, House Oversight Committee: I would say I'm here because we're mystified and confused.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Immediately, Republican Chairman Jason Chaffetz of Utah challenged FBI Director James Comey over whether the Bureau has let Clinton off easily.

  • REP. JASON CHAFFETZ:

    That the average joe, the average American, that if they had done what you laid out in your statement, that they'd be in handcuffs, and they might be on their way to jail, and they probably should. And I think there is a legitimate concern that there is a double standard.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    But over five hours of testimony, Comey insisted his agency was right to recommend no charges.

  • JAMES COMEY, Director, FBI:

    The recommendation was made the way you would want it to be, by people who didn't give a hoot about politics, but who cared about, what are the facts, what is the law, and how have similar people, all people, been treated in the past?

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Other Republicans, like South Carolina's Trey Gowdy, pressed the FBI chief on whether Clinton's previous statements about the e-mails were true.

    REP. TREY GOWDY (R), South Carolina: Secretary Clinton said, "I didn't e-mail any classified material to anyone on my e-mail. There is no classified material." Was that true?

  • JAMES COMEY:

    There was classified material e-mailed.

  • REP. TREY GOWDY:

    Secretary Clinton said all work-related e-mails were returned to the State Department. Was that true?

  • JAMES COMEY:

    No. We found work-related e-mails, thousands, that were not returned.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Comey argued that what Clinton may well have been worth some kind of punishment, but not prosecution as a crime.

  • JAMES COMEY:

    So, should have known, must have known, had to know doesn't get you there. You must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they knew they were engaged in something that was unlawful.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    He drew a distinction with a similar case, that of General David Petraeus, who agreed to a plea deal in 2015 over mishandling classified information.

  • JAMES COMEY:

    In that case of obstruction of justice, you have intentional misconduct and a vast quantity of information. He admitted he knew that was the wrong thing to do. That's a perfect illustration of the kind of cases that get prosecuted.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    While Republicans argued that the lack of charges was political, committee Democrats contended the politics were all in the hearing itself.

    REP. CAROLYN MALONEY (D), New York: Despite your impeccable reputation for independence and integrity, Republicans have turned on you with a vengeance immediately after you announced your recommendation not to pursue criminal charges against Secretary Clinton.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Hillary Clinton stayed off the campaign trail today, but her press secretary sent out a statement, saying today's hearing knocked down Republican falsehoods and shut the door on conspiracy theories about the e-mails once and for all.

    But House Speaker Paul Ryan believes the case is not closed.

    REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), Speaker of the House: Right now, there are still far more questions than answers regarding the investigation of Secretary Clinton.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    The nation's top Republican asked for all unclassified documents in the investigation to be released.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Lisa Desjardins.