House GOP raises pressure on FBI over Clinton

House GOP raises pressure on FBI over Clinton
© Moriah Ratner

More than 200 House Republicans on Monday demanded that FBI Director James Comey answer a slew of questions about his decision not to recommend federal charges against Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHouse Intel Republican: 'Foolish' not to take info on opponent from foreign ally House Intel Republican: 'Foolish' not to take info on opponent from foreign ally It's about the delegates, stupid MORE for her use of a private email server while secretary of State.

The lawmakers accused Comey of creating “a cloud over our nation’s justice system” and implored him to divulge additional details about his decision, even after a nearly five-hour hearing last week.

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“No one is above the law and the American people deserve a more robust explanation for your decision to not recommend criminal charges against the former secretary,” the 204 GOP lawmakers told Comey.

The Republicans’ Monday letter is an intensification of their concerted scrutiny of the FBI’s decision, which removed a potential legal deathblow from striking Clinton’s presidential campaign.

At least five congressional committees have undertaken efforts to ask the FBI or Justice Department about the decision not to pursue charges against Clinton. Monday’s letter, signed by an overwhelming number of House Republicans, shows that GOP lawmakers will continue to seize on the issue up to and likely through the party nominating conventions that begin next week.  

The letter was spearheaded by Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteTop Republican releases full transcript of Bruce Ohr interview It’s time for Congress to pass an anti-cruelty statute DOJ opinion will help protect kids from dangers of online gambling MORE (R-Va.) and Rep. Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyOur sad reality: Donald Trump is no Eisenhower GOP takes aim at Comey, Brennan House Dem calls on lawmakers to 'insulate' election process following Mueller report MORE (R-S.C.), who previously squared off against Clinton as head of the House Select Committee on Benghazi.

In their letter, the lawmakers disputed the FBI chief’s claim that it would be practically unprecedented to charge Clinton with mishandling classified information, since he said investigators discovered no evidence that she did so intentionally.

A 99-year-old law allows for charges to be filed for “gross negligence,” but it has only been used once. “No reasonable prosecutor” would be willing to make the case against Clinton the second ever instance, Comey said last week.  

“The Espionage Act was passed by Congress with the understanding that various standards of culpability can be attributed to one who has failed to protect national security secrets,” lawmakers told Comey. “We do not understand the need to have cited any lack of intent on the part of Secretary Clinton when the law sets forth a felony violation for something less than intentional conduct – ‘gross negligence.’”

“We have multiple former prosecutors in Congress, and it is not far-fetched for many of us to envision a successful prosecution of someone for doing far less than that which was committed by Secretary Clinton.”

While declining to recommend charges against Clinton, Comey did offer harsh criticism of Clinton and her top aides, claiming they were “extremely careless” and could be subject to administrative penalties. Clinton has disputed the charge. 

To Republicans, however, Comey's description reeked of a double standard. Critics accused the FBI of taking pains to avoid recommending charges against Clinton.

Comey “picked a new standard out of thin air — ‘extreme carelessness’ — to describe the actions of Secretary Clinton and her staff,” GOP lawmakers wrote in their letter.

The FBI head will appear in the House Homeland Security Committee on Thursday, in a hearing billed as addressing global security issues but which will likely include several questions about the decision regarding Clinton.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch is scheduled to appear in the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

In addition, the heads of the Senate Judiciary and Homeland Security Committees have filed their own letters with the FBI to inquire about its decision.

The effort appears designed to jump on the controversy that had dogged Clinton for more than a year, since her use of a “homebrew” email system was first revealed. A poll released on Monday found that a majority of the country disagreed with the Justice Department’s decision not to press charges. 

However, the strategy could also backfire, if Republicans are seen as trying to bully Comey, a well-respected lawman and Republican in his own right. GOP lawmakers were heaping praise on the FBI director in the days before his announcement last week, and defenders of Clinton were quick to accuse them of hypocrisy for questioning his decision.