No charges, but will Clinton face political consequences for email scandal?

Despite the finding by investigators that Hillary Clinton’s emails were handled in an extremely careless way, FBI director James Comey said they wouldn't recommend a criminal prosecution. Judy Woodruff talks with Carrie Johnson of NPR, then gets reaction on the political fallout from Sean Spicer, chief strategist of the Republican National Committee, and Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif.

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    And now back to today's announcement from the FBI, and the bureau's year-long probe into Hillary Clinton's e-mail practices as secretary of state.

    First, we will delve into the FBI's findings with Carrie Johnson. She's justice correspondent for NPR.

    Carrie Johnson, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    First of all, you told us today that what the FBI director did, how he said this today was unusual. What did you mean by that?


    Judy, maybe even unprecedented. Nobody I have talked with who's worked with the Justice Department or the FBI over the past 25 years can remember an incident in which an FBI director held a news conference to announce his recommendation about an ongoing criminal matter.

    That is what has happened today. And, moreover, FBI Director Jim Comey entered into an unusual amount of detail about the nature of the investigation and all of the steps that the FBI has taken, painstaking steps, thousands of hours of FBI agents' time, a puzzle — the FBI director likened to getting a jigsaw puzzle that's completed, dumping it on the ground and putting all the pieces back together again.

    That's what Jim Comey says the FBI's task was here investigating Hillary Clinton's e-mail server.


    And yet, in the end…


    In fact, for the…


    I was just going to say…



    I'm sorry.



    No, go ahead. Finish your thought.



    In fact, he said that it wasn't just one e-mail server, Judy. Apparently, she used different servers over time and multiple different BlackBerrys, so this was kind of a complicated investigation, more than we knew.


    And yet, in the end, Director Comey said they didn't feel there was sufficient information, there was no determination that criminal charges should be made. I think people are having a hard time squaring that.


    Yes, including some Republicans, as you mentioned in your newscast.

    So what the FBI director said was they looked at three different things in the course of this investigation, and ultimately concluded that no reasonable prosecutor would bring a criminal case based on the facts that the FBI had at hand.

    What they were looking at was, A, whether Hillary Clinton's e-mail server had been hacked by any foreign governments or criminals, B, whether there was any willful or intentional activity with respect to mishandling classified information, and, C, whether there was negligence, gross negligence, in the handling of government secrets.

    Now, what the FBI concluded after reviewing tens of thousands of pages of documents, interviewing Hillary Clinton on Saturday for three-and-a-half-hours in a room, and many of her closest aides, was that they could find no clear evidence of intent to mishandle government information and government secrets, no direct evidence whatsoever that anybody engaged in obstruction of justice or lied to investigators and, certainly, the FBI director said, no evidence of spying or disloyalty to the U.S. government.

    And because they looked back at a series of plea deals and indictments over the last many years, they couldn't find a case quite like this one. Jim Comey said the facts were just not there to go forward with an intentional criminal case against Hillary Clinton or against anybody else in her inner circle.


    All right, Carrie Johnson, thank you.

    And we know that it's now up to the Department of Justice to decide what to do to make that announcement. That comes next.

    Carrie Johnson, we thank you.


    Absolutely. Thank you.


    And now the political fallout from today's FBI announcement.

    We start with Sean Spicer, chief strategist and communications director for the Republican National Committee. I spoke to him a short time ago.

    Sean Spicer, welcome.

    So, the FBI director — the FBI director said that, despite the finding by his investigators that e-mails were handled in an extremely careless way, that they wouldn't recommend a criminal prosecution. What's your reaction?

  • SEAN SPICER, Chief Strategist, Republican National Committee:

    Well, today was an indictment on Hillary Clinton's judgment more than anything, and an indictment on, frankly, her fitness to be president.

    The 15-minute press conference was started with 14 minutes of the director laying out her recklessness, her mishandling of stuff, the culture that was created at the State Department. I don't see how the conclusion matches the first 14 minutes.

    The director made a very clear case that there were excessive classified e-mails that she had handled, over 100 at the top-secret level. She was reckless with her — with her handling of e-mail.

    And I think, for someone who wants to be president and oversee our national security, whether or not there was actually a criminal indictment is sort of beside the point. The fact of the matter is the FBI recognized that her handling of classified information, her handling of national security was, indeed, reckless and not up to someone who should be president.


    Well, as you know, he said that in order to bring a criminal charge, there had to be finding that Secretary Clinton or the people around her were intentional in the way they violated whatever rules there were at the State Department. Are you saying that was an erroneous finding on his part?


    Well, obviously, I think there is one thing — the investigation, I think, was thorough. I think there's — I don't have a problem with that.

    I don't understand the conclusion, to be honest with you, on two fronts. Number one, the definition is gross negligence. And I think that by what the director laid out meets the legal definition of that. She clearly, whether intentionally or not, broke the law. The law was broken, the rules weren't followed.

    You don't — the law doesn't say unless you meant to break it. It's — the law is the law, and if you break it, you face a penalty. Thousands of people have been prosecuted for mishandling classified information, and there is no question she was — did that.

    But, number two, just when it goes to the intent, the entire reason she set up these private servers — and make sure we all get that that's something that sort of came out today, that it wasn't just one server, it was multiple — he talked about how it was susceptible to foreign hacking.

    But the fact is that she set the server up in the first place to avoid detection, to avoid being monitored and to avoid transparency. So this wasn't the use of a Gmail or a private Yahoo! account. She specifically set this server up to evade detection and monitoring. That in itself goes to intent, as far as I'm concerned.


    What is an appropriate punishment, in your view?


    Well, I'm not a lawyer. I'm not in the Department of Justice.

    But I do — I think that not saying that you can lay out a case of 14 minutes of how the — how it was wrong and then say that it shouldn't, you know, be prosecuted, I don't understand how you square that circle, right?

    He laid out 14 minutes of ways that she personally mishandled classified information, and then said the culture at the State Department was reckless under her leadership. So I don't understand how you can come to the conclusion that then you don't seek prosecution. I hope that the Department of Justice actually overrules this.


    Your party's nominee for president-to-be, Donald Trump, is saying that the system is rigged. He looked at what happened, said the system is rigged.

    Do you agree with him? And, if so, who's rigging it?


    Well, I think there's no question that when you look at the countless people who have been prosecuted, including General Petraeus, you have to say, how do you come to this conclusion and not say that there should be a prosecution?

    I actually believe that the director left more questions than he answered. And I think that's where I think, after a week where the attorney general, Loretta Lynch, has a private secret meeting with former President Bill Clinton, then Secretary Clinton gets a special meeting that no one else in America would get on the Saturday of a holiday weekend at FBI headquarters, and then Tuesday they come out with the announcement, Tuesday afternoon, they go to North Carolina to have a rally, a unity rally with the president of the United States on Air Force One.

    I will be honest with you. I think today created more questions than it answered.


    Sean Spicer with the Republican National Committee, thank you very much.


    Thanks, Judy.


    And now a different view.

    Joining us live from Capitol Hill is U.S. Representative Xavier Becerra of California. He is one of the top-ranking Democrats in Congress.

    Representative Becerra, thank you very much for being here.

    Even without a recommendation to prosecute, these were pretty damning findings, weren't they?

    REP. XAVIER BECERRA (D), California: Judy, thanks for having me.

    And, as we have known, and as the secretary of her said, we need to do things differently, all of us, whether it's at the State Department or in our own home. We have learned that we need to evolve, because technology is moving so quickly, that you can't have the old password that you used to have on your e-mail account, because you know it's not sufficient enough to clear you.

    And, clearly, if you're going to be passing along information that's classified, you're talking about very sensitive matters at State Department, you have to be even more careful. So, yes, I think it's clear — and the secretary has admitted — that we need to make sure that we're doing everything possible to protect Americans and the information that we generate.


    How do you explain, though, Congressman, Secretary Clinton's repeated statements that no classified information was sent or received, when the FBI found that it was?


    And, Judy, I think we're all interested in learning a little bit more about what Director Comey was saying, because it could be the difference between what you are communicating at a particular moment, which doesn't receive a classified designation or a top-secret designation, and afterwards may, or, in the opinion of someone who would have seen that e-mail, say, at the FBI or at CIA, they may have said, oh, this particular communication should have been classified.

    There has been a dispute that's run for years between State Department and some of our intelligence agencies about what really should be classified. We got to the point where we were overclassifying information. And so it's a matter of balance, I think, but we will find out a little bit more once we all have the information that Director Comey was referring to.


    We just heard Sean Spicer, a spokesman at the Republican National Committee, saying that, whatever was done in a criminal manner, that what happened with regard to these e-mails showed, in his word, or demonstrated, in his words, an indictment of her fitness to be president.


    Well, let's step back for a moment. As Mr. Spicer himself said, he is not an attorney. He's a partisan.

    Clearly, his words were very partisan, and that's why we have not put partisans in charge of the investigation. We put the professionals, the investigators at the FBI in charge of this, because we don't need partisans to start talking about these things and making decisions. We want people who are dispassionate, who are nonpartisan, who will look at this information objectively.

    And those who are professionals and do this for a living for the safety of our country have come to the conclusion that the information doesn't warrant any action against the secretary. So I take the word of someone who's at the FBI and is a professional vs. the claims of a partisan.


    Well, even Democrats, though, Congressman, say that the decision by the secretary to use a private e-mail server was, in their words — with the potential for classified information to get out there, was a serious lapse in judgment.


    And I think the secretary would say to you that she made a mistake, she would do it differently today. So far, there is no evidence that shows that the e-mails were hacked and that any information was lost to anyone in particular.

    But, Judy, I think everyone agrees the reason the FBI is looking into this is because it's a serious matter. And, by the way, this should be a reminder to all of us, you better be updating your passwords. You better be making sure that your own systems that you use to communicate electronically are secure, because technology is running way faster than most people believe.

    And those who are trying to do us harm are trying to keep up, and so it's up to us to do the best we can. And certainly at the Department of State, they certainly should be doing the best job possible as well.


    Just very quickly, do you now believe this matter is closed?


    Certainly, it should run the time that's necessary, and I will leave that to the professionals, those who are the investigators, to tell us when it's ultimately done.

    Clearly, by the FBI saying that they find no basis to take any action, I think we're coming close, but we have to hear from the Department of Justice and their career prosecutors. But my sense is that, if the evidence isn't there to move forward with any action, that the prosecutors will say, we probably need to bring this to a close.


    Representative Xavier Becerra, thank you very much.


    Thank you, Judy.

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