F.B.I. officials questioned Hillary Clinton extensively about her judgment in using her private email system to discuss classified drone strikes and in allowing aides to destroy large numbers of emails, before ultimately deciding she should not face criminal charges, according to investigative documents released Friday.
The documents provided a number of new details about Mrs. Clinton’s private server, including what appeared to be a frantic effort by a computer specialist to delete an archive of her emails even after a congressional committee had requested they be preserved.
In a 3½-hour interview with the Justice Department’s top counterintelligence officials on July 2, Mrs. Clinton defended her handling of the private email system by repeatedly saying she had deferred to the judgment of her aides, an F.B.I. summary of the interview showed.
Mrs. Clinton’s use of the private server has shadowed her presidential campaign for a year and a half. And the newly disclosed records, while largely reinforcing what had already been known about the F.B.I. investigation, provided Republicans more ammunition to attack the Democratic nominee’s judgment and honesty as she heads into the final, post-Labor Day phase of the campaign.
Among the other key findings in the F.B.I. documents:
■ Mrs. Clinton regarded emails containing classified discussions about planned drone strikes as “routine.”
■ She said she was either unaware of or misunderstood some classification procedures.
■ Colin L. Powell, a former secretary of state, had advised her to “be very careful” in how she used email.
The F.B.I. documents show that an unnamed computer specialist deleted the archive of Mrs. Clinton’s emails weeks after the existence of the private server became public in March 2015.
Disgusted by a number of things:1. Clinton’s seeming lack of understanding of classification systems.2. Clinton’s seemingly cavalier…
Prof.Jai Prakash Sharma 2 hours ago
The whole email saga points to serious lapses and poor judgment on the part of Hillary Clinton as the Secretary of state but the kind of…
Rayan 3 hours ago
Are you trying to tell me that the FBI could not have stopped Hillary or Colin Powell or Condi Rice from using a personal mail ID or a…
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Days after The New York Times first reported that Mrs. Clinton had used a private email system exclusively as secretary of state, the House committee investigating the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, asked that her emails be preserved and subpoenaed those that were related to the attacks.
About three weeks later, however, the unnamed specialist “had an ‘oh shit’ moment” and realized that he had not destroyed an archive of emails that was supposed to have been deleted a year earlier, according to the F.B.I. report.
The specialist then used a program known as BleachBit to delete an unknown number of emails, according to the report. Mrs. Clinton told investigators that she was unaware that the aide had deleted the emails.
Dozens of times during her interview, Mrs. Clinton said she did not remember details about the server or guidance she had received on how to handle classified information.
In its summary of the investigation, the F.B.I. said that Mrs. Clinton had emailed Colin Powell, a former secretary of state, a day after she was sworn in to office about Mr. Powell’s use of a personal email account when he was the country’s top diplomat. Mr. Powell warned Mrs. Clinton that if she used her BlackBerry for official business, those emails could become “official record[s] and subject to the law.”
Mr. Powell, apparently implying that he was cautious in his use of a personal email account, added: “Be very careful. I got around it all by not saying much and not using systems that captured the data.” According to the summary of her interview, Mrs. Clinton said that she did not know exactly what Mr. Powell was saying in that email and that his message “did not factor into her decision to use a personal email account.”
F.B.I. officials appear to have questioned Mrs. Clinton most aggressively about her judgment in using her private, unsecured system to get emails about how or where the Obama administration was planning to launch drone strikes against terrorism suspects, the documents indicated.
The F.B.I. showed her one email after another containing information about possible drone strikes that was considered classified. But Mrs. Clinton appeared almost blasé in explaining her use of her private system to gather information on drone strikes.
After being shown one email that was redacted from the public release of her emails, Mrs. Clinton “stated deliberation over a future drone strike did not give her cause for concern regarding classification,” according to the F.B.I. summary of the interview.
“Clinton understood this type of conversation as part of the routine deliberation process,” the summary said. “Moreover, she recalled many conversations about future strikes that never occurred.”
Mrs. Clinton’s lawyer, David Kendall, declined to comment. In a statement, her campaign said it was pleased that the F.B.I. had made the documents public.
“While her use of a single email account was clearly a mistake and she has taken responsibility for it, these materials make clear why the Justice Department believed there was no basis to move forward with this case,” the campaign said.
But Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah and the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said that the deletion of the emails violated an order his committee issued to Mrs. Clinton in 2012 and a subpoena issued by the Benghazi committee in 2015.
He said he planned to seek answers from Mrs. Clinton about the deletions. “These were not Hillary Clinton’s emails — they were government records, and this was potentially one of the largest security breaches at the State Department because they had all these years of security records that just went out the door,” Mr. Chaffetz said. “It’s a very black-and-white order. There’s no wiggle room.”
Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, called the F.B.I. documents “a devastating indictment of her judgment, honesty and basic competency.”
The F.B.I. released only small portions of its thick files on the Clinton investigation, and Senator Charles E. Grassley, the Iowa Republican who leads the Senate Judiciary Committee, accused the F.B.I. of withholding key documents — including many unclassified ones — from public view.
The selective release, he said, produced “an incomplete and possibly misleading picture of the facts without the other unclassified information that is still locked away from the public and even most congressional staff.”
Mrs. Clinton told F.B.I. investigators that she had used a personal email server “out of convenience” and did not remember anyone raising legal concerns about the practice.
She also said that she “did not recall receiving any emails she thought should not be on an unclassified system,” the F.B.I. documents say. “She relied on State officials to use their judgment when emailing her and could not recall anyone raising concerns with her regarding the sensitivity of the information she received at her email address,” they say.
The document summarizing Mrs. Clinton’s interview, known in the F.B.I. as a 302 report, runs only a dozen pages. The memorandum on the investigation is lengthier, and goes into greater detail about aspects of the case. The materials were presumably provided to James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, who later decided to not recommend charges in the case.