Comey’s original Clinton memo released, cites possible violations
Ex-FBI Director James Comey’s original statement closing out the probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server was edited by subordinates to remove five separate references to terms like “grossly negligent” and to delete mention of evidence supporting felony and misdemeanor violations, according to copies of the full document.
Comey also originally concluded that it was “reasonably likely” that Clinton’s nonsecure private server was accessed or hacked by hostile actors, though there was no evidence to prove it. But that passage was also changed to the much weaker “possible,” the memos show.
The full draft and edits were released on the website of Senate Homeland and Government Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), providing the most complete public accounting to date of Comey’s draft and the subsequent edits.
The draft, released in full for the first time on Thursday, offers new details on the FBI’s Clinton investigation and controversial conclusion.
The Hill was first to report late last year that Comey originally concluded Clinton was “grossly negligent” — the statutory term supporting felony mishandling of classified information — when she and her aides transmitted 110 emails containing classified information through her non-secure server but that subordinates edited the term to the lesser “extremely careless.”
The full draft, with edits, leaves little doubt that Comey originally wrote on May 2, 2016, that there was evidence that Clinton and top aides may have violated both felony and misdemeanor statutes, though he did not believe he could prove intent before a jury.
“Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statute proscribing gross negligence in the handling of classified information and of the statute proscribing misdemeanor mishandling, my judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case,” Comey originally penned.
That passage, however, was edited to remove the references to “gross negligence” and “misdemeanor mishandling,” leaving a much more generic reference to “potential violations of the statutes.”
The FBI has told Congress the edits were made by subordinates to Comey and then accepted by the then-director before he made his final announcement July 5, 2016, that he would not pursue criminal charges against Clinton.
Johnson recently sent a letter to new FBI Director Christopher Wray demanding to know why such significant edits were made to Comey’s draft and whether they were part of an effort by FBI subordinates to politically protect Clinton from a harsher assessment during the 2016 election.
“The edits to Director Comey’s public statement, made months prior to the conclusion of the FBI’s investigation of Secretary Clinton’s conduct, had a significant impact on the FBI’s public evaluation of the implications of her actions,” Johnson wrote, noting recently released text messages show some senior FBI officials involved in the case harbored political hatred for Donald Trump or preference for Clinton.
“This effort, seen in light of the personal animus toward then-candidate Trump by senior agents leading the Clinton investigation and their apparent desire to create an ‘insurance policy’ against Mr. Trump’s election, raise profound questions about the FBI’s role and possible interference in the 2016 presidential election,” Johnson wrote.
One edit that concerned Johnson was a decision to delete from Comey’s original draft a reference to the FBI working on a joint assessment with the intelligence community about possible national security damage from the classified information that passed through Clinton’s non-secure email servers.
“We have done extensive work with the assistance of our colleagues elsewhere in the Intelligence Community to understand what indications there might be of compromise by hostile actors in connection with the private email operation,” Comey originally wrote.
The reference to the rest of the intelligence community was edited out, the memos show.
Johnson now wants to know whether other intelligence agencies had assessments of damage that differed or were more negative than that of the FBI.
Johnson also demanded the FBI provide him the “editing comments” in the margins of the Comey memo that were redacted before Congress was given the document, so lawmakers can better understand the intent of some of the changes that were made.
The full document shows that when Comey first sent to his top deputies the draft statement May 2, 2016, announcing Clinton wouldn’t face criminal charges, he imagined it would be part of an austere news conference where he took no questions from reporters. That event did not happen until two months later.
“I’ve been trying to imagine what it would look like if I decided to do an FBI only press event to close out our work and hand the matter to [the Justice Department],” Comey wrote. “To help shape our discussions of whether that, or something different, makes sense, I have spent some time crafting what I would say, which follows. In my imagination, I don’t see me taking any questions.”
Read Comey’s draft as released by Johnson below.