In a message to his workforce today, FBI Director James Comey further defended his decision not to recommend pressing charges against Hillary Clinton over her use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state.
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“I hope you see clearly what I see, that this investigation was done honestly, independently and competently,” Comey said in a video message to FBI personnel, according to one government employee who recounted the message to ABC News. “For investigators and their supervisors, all the way up to me, the decision was not only the right one, it actually wasn’t that hard a decision, given the facts and the law.”
In fact, he said, “What I don’t have patience for is people suggesting that the FBI did it in some way that was anything other than apolitical and independent, because that’s just not true, and anybody who knows the FBI should know better.”
Comey has spent recent weeks defending his decision before lawmakers, reporters and the public.
Earlier this month, he told a House panel that the question of whether to recommend bringing charges against Clinton was “not a cliffhanger,” reiterating his belief that “no reasonable prosecutor” would have brought an indictment in the case.
In trying to explain his decision to lawmakers, Comey told a House panel that two things matter in such a criminal probe, “What did the person do ... and when they did it — did they know they were doing something that was unlawful?”
“When I look at the facts we gathered here ... I see evidence of great carelessness, but I do not see evidence sufficient to establish that Secretary Clinton or those with whom she was corresponding both talked about classified information on email and knew when they did it that they were doing something that was against the law,” he said earlier this month. “No reasonable prosecutor would bring this case.”
He has called Clinton and her aides “extremely careless” for their handling of classified information, and he has acknowledged that U.S. law makes it a crime to exhibit “gross negligence” in dealing with such sensitive material. But testifying before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Comey said the Justice Department has used the law only once in the statute’s 99-year existence — in a case involving espionage — and there has long been “grave concerns” among prosecutors that using the law could violate the “American tradition” of incarcerating only people who knew they were engaging in illegal activity.
“No reasonable prosecutor would bring the second case in 100 years focused on ‘gross negligence,’” he told the committee on July 7. “That’s just the way it is ... Nobody would. Nobody did.”
Nevertheless, the panel’s chairman, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said he was “mystified” and “confused” by Comey’s decision, insisting “the average Joe” believes that if others had “sloppily” handled classified information as Clinton did, “they’d be in handcuffs.”
According to Chaffetz, the message being sent is, “If your name isn’t Clinton or you aren’t part of the powerful elite ... Lady Justice will act differently.”
Comey dismissed such criticism, saying the decision was made by career agents and high-level prosecutors “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.”
In his message to FBI employees today, Comey called these “difficult circumstances at difficult times.” But he said the FBI is “looking pretty darn good,” thanks to the agency’s work overall.
Asked about today's message from the director, the FBI emphasized that Comey spoke about more than the Clinton case.
“To mark the 108th birthday of the FBI, the Director sent a message to the workforce that highlighted some of the significant and challenging work the FBI has handled recently. He cited the Clinton case, along with San Bernardino, Orlando, Dallas and Baton Rouge, as reflective of the important work we do, and the professionalism with which we do it," the FBI said in a statement to ABC News.