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FBI recommends no charges against Clinton

FBI Director James Comey announced Tuesday that he would not recommend criminal charges against Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillicon Valley: Bolton tells Russians 2016 meddling had little effect | Facebook eyes major cyber firm | Saudi site gets hacked | Softbank in spotlight over Saudi money | YouTube fights EU 'meme ban' proposal Dems lower expectations for 'blue wave' Election Countdown: Takeaways from heated Florida governor's debate | DNC chief pushes back on 'blue wave' talk | Manchin faces progressive backlash | Trump heads to Houston rally | Obama in Las Vegas | Signs of huge midterm turnout MORE for mishandling government secrets, clearing the way for her to be crowned the Democratic Party’s nominee for president later this month. 

Comey said evidence showed the former secretary of State had been “extremely careless” in handling classified emails over a private server, but that it was not enough to merit an indictment.

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“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,” Comey told reporters in a dramatic announcement at the FBI’s headquarters in Washington.

“We are expressing to Justice our view that no charges are appropriate in this case,” he added.

If Comey’s decision was not entirely surprising, the timing — coming hours before Clinton’s first joint appearance with President Obama — was a shocker.

The political world has been awaiting the FBI’s judgment of Clinton for months, wondering if a surprise indictment could block her path to the nomination and suddenly open the door to Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersHarris presses young people to vote early in Iowa trip Dems lower expectations for 'blue wave' Election Countdown: Takeaways from heated Florida governor's debate | DNC chief pushes back on 'blue wave' talk | Manchin faces progressive backlash | Trump heads to Houston rally | Obama in Las Vegas | Signs of huge midterm turnout MORE (I-Vt.) or Vice President Biden.

Instead, Comey ended the FBI’s investigation days after Clinton was interviewed by investigators at the bureau’s headquarters, and about a week after Attorney General Loretta Lynch made headlines by meeting her husband, former President Clinton, on an airport tarmac.

While the decision ends talk of an indictment, Comey gave new ammunition to Clinton critics in scathing criticism of her setup.

A total of 113 emails from Clinton’s machine contained information that was classified at the time they were sent or received, Comey said, undercutting a claim from Clinton that the messages were only upgraded after the fact. Another roughly 2,000 emails were classified later.

The FBI’s investigation also found that “a very small” number of them “bore markings indicating the presence of classified information,” wrecking her claims at ignorance about the sensitive nature of the material in her inbox. 

And among the “several thousand” work-related messages recovered from the approximately 30,000 Clinton deleted in 2014, three were classified. The former first lady had said the deleted emails were purely personal in nature and didn’t belong in the government’s hands.

In what may be the one positive detail for Clinton’s presidential campaign, Comey asserted that there was no evidence to support allegations that her team had “intentionally deleted” the additional work-related messages “in an effort to conceal them.”

“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,” Comey said.

The FBI chief also said that he could not rule out the possibility that Clinton’s server had been hacked, despite failing to find any evidence of a cyber intrusion.

The bureau’s decision not to recommend charges upset Republicans, who have long said Clinton’s email arrangement jeopardized national security.

Clinton’s presumptive GOP presidential opponent, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump to fundraise for 3 Republicans running for open seats: report Trump to nominate former Monsanto exec to top Interior position White House aides hadn’t heard of Trump's new tax cut: report MORE, connected Tuesday’s announcement from the FBI to the Clinton campaign rally with Obama later in the day as well as the meeting between Lynch and Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonConservatives bankrolled and dominated Kavanaugh confirmation media campaign Sen. Walter Huddleston was a reminder that immigration used to be a bipartisan issue No, civility isn't optional MORE.

“It was no accident that charges were not recommended against Hillary the exact same day as President Obama campaigns with her for the first time,” Trump said in a statement.

“Folks — the system is rigged,” he added. “The final jury will be the American people, and they will issue the verdict on her corruption, incompetence, and bad judgment on November 8th.”

Neither Obama nor Clinton mentioned the announcement during their hour-long rally in North Carolina.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanElection Countdown: Takeaways from heated Florida governor's debate | DNC chief pushes back on 'blue wave' talk | Manchin faces progressive backlash | Trump heads to Houston rally | Obama in Las Vegas | Signs of huge midterm turnout Will the Federal Reserve make a mistake by shifting to inflation? Sanders: Democrats ‘absolutely’ have chance to win back rural America  MORE (R-Wis.) said the news “defies explanation,” while Rep. Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteConservatives fume over format of upcoming Rosenstein interview Rosenstein to appear for House interview next week Fusion GPS co-founder pleads the Fifth following House GOP subpoena MORE (R-Va.), who oversees the FBI as head of the House Judiciary Committee, told Comey in a letter that his announcement “raises many questions” and demanded additional information.

“Little solace is found in your detailed breakdown of the FBI’s findings that Secretary Clinton acted ‘extremely careless’ in mishandling classified information,” Goodlatte wrote to Comey.

“I find the timing and manner of your announcement uniquely troubling in light of last week’s secret meeting between Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former President Bill Clinton.”

Comey attempted to dismiss allegations of political meddling, claiming that no one outside his bureau was aware of his announcement before it was delivered on Tuesday morning.

Yet the decision nonetheless seems likely to haunt Comey, a Republican whose 10-year term is not slated to end until 2023. Multiple Republicans had sung the FBI director’s praises in the weeks ahead of Tuesday’s announcement, but those warm feelings might begin to erode if they feel he succumbed to political pressure.

While declining to support an indictment on Tuesday, Comey asserted that Clinton’s email setup was nonetheless evidence of a troubling lack of concern about protecting national secrets.

Someone of the stature of Clinton or her senior aides, he said, “should have known” that the system carried security risks.

“To be clear, this is not to suggest that in similar circumstances, a person who engaged in this activity would face no consequences,” Comey warned. “To the contrary, those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions.

“But that is not what we are deciding now.”

Spokesman John Kirby told reporters that the State Department would decline to consider administrative punishments for any current staffers until the Justice Department formally closes its review.

Comey’s remarks also appeared to raise the question of whether Clinton’s aides could be denied security clearances if she wins the White House this November.

“This sort of irresponsibility can directly jeopardize U.S. national security and put people’s lives at risk,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon.

“I hope the irresponsible handling of classified information documented by the FBI will be considered if any of these individuals currently possesses a security clearance or applies for one in the future.”

Updated at 8:25 p.m.