FBI Director James Comey said he’s not going to reopen the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, telling Congress on Wednesday that none of the recent revelations since he closed the case in July “would come near” to triggering that extraordinary step.
He also refused to say if he’s investigating whether Mrs. Clinton lied in her testimony to Congress about her emails — but said they have received referrals from Congress asking for a new probe.
Appearing before Congress for yet another marathon session, Mr. Comey was badgered by Republicans who said the more they see, the less they understand his decision to clear Mrs. Clinton of criminal wrongdoing in her mishandling of classified information.
The director in July said she did bungle top secret information, but said he couldn’t make charges stick because he couldn’t prove she was sophisticated enough to know the risks she was running, or even to understand the classification system in which she was a key player. And despite new revelations that one of her contractors said he was part of a “coverup operation,” Mr. Comey said nothing he’s seen leads him to question his original conclusions.
“I haven’t seen anything that would come near to that kind of situation,” he said. “I know there’s lots of questions, lots of controversy. I’m very proud of the way this was done.”
He did, however, dispute Mrs. Clinton’s claim that he had deemed her “truthful” in her public explanations of her emails.
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“I did not,” Mr. Comey said flatly, saying that wasn’t his job.
Mr. Comey was testifying to the House Judiciary Committee on his agency’s operations, but most of the questions — particularly from Republicans — related to Mrs. Clinton’s emails.
Lawmakers have recently gotten a look at the immunity agreements granted to some of the subjects of the investigation, including Mrs. Clinton’s top personal aide, Cheryl Mills, and demanded to know what investigators were thinking.
Mr. Comey said it was Justice Department lawyers, not FBI investigators, who granted immunity.
In the case of Ms. Mills, he said they wanted to get a look at any Clinton emails she had on her laptop, so they offered her “act of production immunity,” meaning she couldn’t be prosecuted for anything they found on the computer.
“This looks like [an] ordinary investigative process to me,” he said.
He also defended allowing Ms. Mills, a subject of the investigation, to sit in as Mrs. Clinton’s lawyer when FBI agents interviewed the former State Department secretary and current Democratic presidential nominee in July.
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While admitting it was unprecedented in his experience, he said his agents had no power to exclude anyone Mrs. Clinton wanted to bring — particularly since Ms. Mills was acting as one of her lawyers.
Rep. John Ratcliffe, Texas Republican, said allowing Ms. Mills and Heather Samuelson, another Clinton lawyer granted immunity, to sit in suggested that a decision had already been made to clear Mrs. Clinton.
“To me, the only way that an interview takes place with two central witnesses and the subject of the investigation is if the decision has already been made that all three people in that room are not going to be charged,” the congressman said.
Republicans said the FBI’s handling of the case is denting the respect the country holds for the storied G-men. “That is not the FBI that I used to work with,” said Rep. Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Republican and a former prosecutor.
Mr. Comey bristled at those words.
“I hope some day, when this political craziness is over, you will look back again on this, because this is the FBI you know and love,” he said. “This was done by pros in the right way.”
Mr. Comey said his agents already knew most of the information that has come out in recent weeks that has shocked Republicans and fed their calls for reopening the investigation. Indeed, it was the FBI’s investigative notes that made much of it public.
The one piece of information he said he hadn’t been made aware of before was a communication in which one of Mrs. Clinton’s tech contractors, Paul Combetta, called the deletion of her emails a “coverup operation” in a posting on internet chat board Reddit.com.
Mr. Combetta asked fellow Reddit users for help in trying “to strip out a VIP’s (VERY VIP) email address from a bunch of archived email.”
GOP lawmakers said they saw that as the beginning of an effort to delete information and obstruct the investigation, but Mr. Comey disagreed, saying the FBI judged it to be what it said — an effort to keep an email address from being made public.
Mr. Combetta misled FBI investigators during an initial interview when he said he did not recall knowing that the Clinton emails have been ordered preserved when he started deleting them. In another interview several months later, however, he said he did know of the preservation order but violated it anyway.
“There are federal records that were indeed destroyed. That’s just the fact pattern,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican and chairman of the House Oversight Committee.
Mr. Comey said Mr. Combetta was granted immunity because investigators wanted to find out if anyone ordered him to delete the messages. The FBI concluded that nobody issued such an order.
• Stephen Dinan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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