Yesterday, FBI Director James Comey issued his final statement about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s personal email server. While he characterized her behavior around classified information as “extremely careless,” he will not recommend prosecution. Democrats and Republicans are spinning his decisions relentlessly today.
The overwhelming impression I get from Comey’s statement is of a diligent FBI and a sloppy Hillary Clinton. Her IT practices were sloppy. Her practices handing over emails and deleting them were sloppy. Comey does not find a pattern that’s criminal, and will not recommend prosecution. But it’s clear that this server and the way it was used was a mess.
Director Comey’s statements and translation
Comey’s statement is clear, if technically complicated and detailed (2356 words). You could read the summaries in various media today. Or you can read my translation of some excerpts below. I’ve bolded passive voice, which reveals just how many faceless or unidentified people, both in the FBI and in Secretary Clinton’s IT department, had their fingers in this investigation. And I’ve put weasel words in italics so you can see the role that judgment — imprecise judgment — plays here.
After a tremendous amount of work over the last year, the FBI is completing its investigation and referring the case to the Department of Justice for a prosecutive decision. What I would like to do today is tell you three things: what we did; what we found; and what we are recommending to the Department of Justice.
Translation: I’m really glad to be done with this mess.
Our investigation looked at whether there is evidence classified information was improperly stored or transmitted on that personal system, in violation of a federal statute making it a felony to mishandle classified information either intentionally or in a grossly negligent way, or a second statute making it a misdemeanor to knowingly remove classified information from appropriate systems or storage facilities.
Translation: I’m only interested in whether she exposed classified material. We read thousands of emails full of sordid stuff, but I don’t get to talk about that.
It turns out to have been … complicated …. 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. As new servers and equipment were employed, older servers were taken out of service, stored, and decommissioned in various ways. Piecing all of that back together—to gain as full an understanding as possible of the ways in which personal e-mail was used for government work—has been a painstaking undertaking, requiring thousands of hours of effort.
Translation: Hillary Clinton’s IT department was messy, which made my job harder.
FBI investigators have also read all of the approximately 30,000 e-mails provided by Secretary Clinton to the State Department in December 2014. Where an e-mail was assessed as possibly containing classified information, the FBI referred the e-mail to any U.S. government agency that was a likely “owner” of information in the e-mail . . . 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. Eight of those chains contained information that was Top Secret at the time they were sent.
Translation: Hillary was sloppy, too.
The FBI also discovered several thousand work-related e-mails that were not in the group of 30,000 that were returned by Secretary Clinton to State in 2014. . . . Some had been deleted over the years and we found traces of them on devices that supported or were connected to the private e-mail domain. Others we found by reviewing the archived government e-mail accounts of people who had been government employees at the same time as Secretary Clinton, . . . Still others we recovered from the laborious review of the millions of e-mail fragments dumped into the slack space of the server decommissioned in 2013. . . . three of those were classified at the time they were sent or received . . .
Translation: Hillary was sloppy with deleting emails but we found them anyway and a few of them were classified, too.
I should add here that we found no evidence that any of the additional work-related e-mails were intentionally deleted in an effort to conceal them. Our assessment is that, like many e-mail users, Secretary Clinton periodically deleted e-mails or e-mails were purged from the system when devices were changed.
Translation. Shit got lost. It happens. Not criminal, but not disciplined, either.
The lawyers doing the sorting for Secretary Clinton in 2014 did not individually read the content of all of her e-mails, as we did for those available to us; instead, they relied on header information and used search terms to try to find all work-related e-mails among the reportedly more than 60,000 total e-mails remaining on Secretary Clinton’s personal system in 2014. It is highly likely their search terms missed some work-related e-mails, and that we later found them, for example, in the mailboxes of other officials or in the slack space of a server. . . . we believe our investigation has been sufficient to give us reasonable confidence there was no intentional misconduct in connection with that sorting effort
Translation: Her lawyers were probably just sloppy, too. But I’ll use weasel words like “reasonable” and “in connection with” because I can’t be sure.
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.
Translation: By using words like “extremely” and “highly classified” I signal that this is serious sloppiness.
There is evidence to support a conclusion that any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position, or in the position of those government employees with whom she was corresponding about these matters, should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation.
Translation: A Secretary of State ought to know better than to be this sloppy.
None of these e-mails should have been on any kind of unclassified system, but their presence is especially concerning because all of these e-mails were housed on unclassified personal servers not even supported by full-time security staff, like those found at Departments and Agencies of the U.S. Government
Translation: Do-it-yourself servers are vulnerable and Clinton’s security was sloppy.
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. . . . In looking back at our investigations into mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts. 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.
Translation: We judge that the sloppiness falls short of criminal behavior.
[T]his investigation was done competently, honestly, and independently. No outside influence of any kind was brought to bear. . . . [W]e did the investigation the right way. Only facts matter, and the FBI found them here in an entirely apolitical and professional way.
Translation: Hillary Clinton’s husband didn’t visit me on an airport tarmac.
Political note: I think Donald Trump is a dangerous buffoon. But I serve truth, meaning, and clarity, not any political aim. If you think I have to support Hillary Clinton unconditionally to stop Donald Trump, you’re reading the wrong blog.