FBI Director James Comey is sworn in before testifying during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the FBI's investigation into presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's use of a private email system while serving as secretary of state, on Thursday. Comey outlined his reasons why the FBI did not prosecute Hillary Clinton on her private email server, though he agreed with GOP lawmakers Clinton's public statements were not entirely truthful. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
WASHINGTON, July 7 (UPI) -- FBI Director James Comey testified on Capitol Hill on Thursday that Hillary Clinton was not truthful in public statements about her private email system, though he continued to defend his recommendation she should not be prosecuted because she did not break the law.
On Tuesday, Comey called Clinton's private email system as secretary of state "extremely careless" -- before announcing the FBI had found no evidence she willfully or knowingly broke the law by mishandling classified information.
On Thursday, Comey testified before the GOP-controlled House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, many of the members of which disagreed with the FBI's findings in the investigation.
His testimony lasted more than four hours.
Comey told lawmakers his investigators did find evidence that classified State Department information was mishandled and potentially made available to hostile foreign governments, but they found no evidence anyone intentionally sought to violate government secrecy laws, adding the decision not to charge Clinton or any of her aides turned on the latter question of intent.
"What does it take for someone to misuse classified information and get in trouble for it?" asked Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, a member of the panel skeptical of the FBI's findings.
"It takes mishandling it and criminal intent," Comey replied.
"And so an unauthorized server in the basement is not mishandling?" Hurd asked.
"Well, no, there is evidence of mishandling here," Comey said. "This whole investigation at the end focused on: Is there sufficient evidence of intent?"
Comey told lawmakers the interview with Clinton was conducted by investigators and that he was not personally in attendance, but was briefed afterward. He said investigators followed up with a written summary of their findings. The interview was not recorded and Clinton was not asked to take the oath, though Comey noted it is still a crime to lie to the FBI.
While Comey defended the eventual determination that no criminal charges were appropriate, he did agree with assertions by GOP lawmakers that the Democratic presidential candidate's public assurances about her email use were not backed up by the facts uncovered in the investigation.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., a former federal prosecutor, walked Comey through a series of questions about the FBI's findings, asking him each step of the way whether Clinton's public statements were backed up by the facts.
In each instance, Comey agreed they were not:
Gowdy first asked about Clinton's statement that "there was nothing marked 'classified.'"
"Not true," Comey said.
He then asked if there was any classified material on the servers.
"There was classified email," Comey said.
He then asked whether she had turned over all her emails, as Clinton promised repeatedly she had done.
"We found work-related emails, thousands, that were not returned," the FBI director said.
Comey stood by his department's findings, that while Clinton's email system was "careless" she never knowingly or willfully mishandled classified information.
"We did not develop clear evidence of that," he said.
Comey also defended his department's handling of the politically charged investigation, saying their conclusion would have been reached no matter which party was in control of the White House.
"No Justice Department, whether under Democrats or Republicans, would prosecute that case," Comey said.
Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, pressed Comey on whether any of Clinton's statements rose to the level of a crime, including her testimony before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, during which she said unequivocally there were never any emails, sent or received, that were marked classified.
The result of the line of inquiry could mean a new phase in the yearlong Clinton email investigation -- whether she lied under oath before Congress.
"We have no basis to conclude that she lied to the FBI," Comey said.
"Did she lie to the public?" Chaffetz asked.
"That's a question I'm not qualified to answer. I can speak about what she said to the FBI," Comey responded.
Chaffetz then asked Comey whether the FBI investigated Clinton for perjuring herself before Congress.
"Not to my knowledge. I don't think there's been a referral from Congress," Comey said.
"Do you need a referral from Congress to investigate her statements under oath?" Chaffetz asked.
"Sure do," Comey retorted.
"You'll have one," Chaffetz said, laughing. "You'll have one in the next few hours."
Comey said there were three emails in the 30,000 the FBI reviewed that were marked with a "C" in parentheses -- "C" as in "classified." Comey said the notations were in the body of text inserted into emails sent to Clinton by an aide and he said the FBI concluded it was reasonable Clinton either did not notice or did not know what the notation meant.
Democrats on the panel largely backed Comey despite the tough remarks about her "careless" handling of classified information. The committee's ranking member, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., called Comey's work "thankless" and said Republicans had reversed course from praising his impartiality only days ago.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., asked Comey, who is a Republican, about an assertion by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump that anyone in the Department of Justice, which oversees the FBI, was offered "a bribe" by former President Bill Clinton when he met privately with Attorney General Loretta Lynch last week.
Maloney apologized to Comey for asking what she termed a "ridiculous question," about whether any bribe was offered. Comey lowered his gaze, shook his head and said "no."
The question was not dropped, however.
In another tense exchange between Comey and Republicans, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., showed a timeline of events dating to Bill Clinton's tarmac meeting with Lynch last week and ending with Comey's announcement Tuesday that Hillary Clinton should not be charged.
"This is rapid fire," he said, adding he was unable to explain to his constituents how events unfolded as quickly as they did. "My folks think there is something fishy about this. I'm not a conspiracy theorist but I have some questions about how this came down."
Comey replied he did not consult with Lynch or others at the Justice Department, or anyone in the Obama administration about his findings or the timing of when it would be released.