The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) yesterday revealed that no criminal charges would be filed against Hillary Clinton over the use of private email servers while she was secretary of state.
The Democratic USA presidential candidate was, however, sharply rebuked by the FBI for “extremely careless” handling of classified information.
This happened as United Kingdom (UK) Home Secretary, Mrs Theresa May, comfortably won the first round of the contest to become the next Conservative leader and UK prime minister as David Cameron leaves office in October.
FBI Director, James Comey, said “no reasonable prosecutor” would pursue a case.
The FBI’s decision ends the legal uncertainty that has dogged the Clinton campaign. However, Comey was highly critical of Mrs Clinton and her staff.
There was no clear evidence that Mrs Clinton intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, Comey said.
But he added, “there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”
The FBI’s key findings revealed that it is possible that “hostile actors” gained access to Mrs Clinton’s email account, that there were more than 100 emails that contained classified information when they were sent or received, contrary to her claims, that Mrs Clinton employed multiple email servers and devices that she did not delete emails in an effort to conceal them.
Comey said the FBI did not find that Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate the law, and that there was no “intentional misconduct” by her lawyers who sorted her emails.
He said her staff ought to have known Clinton’s private email was an improper place for classified information, but there was no evidence that anyone had hacked Clinton’s communications.
The FBI found 110 emails in 52 email chains that contained information that was classified at the time the messages were sent, Comey said. Eight of those chains contained “top secret” information, the highest level of government classification for material that could harm national security.
Another 36 email chains contained “secret” information, and eight “confidential” information, he said. Agents also found three classified emails among the thousands Clinton never returned to the State Department.
Comey said there were no previous cases that supported filing criminal charges against Clinton. Other cases had involved intentional mishandling of information, he said, and there was no evidence Clinton knew she was violating the law.
Last year, the FBI recommended that former CIA director, David Petraeus, be charged with a felony for his mishandling of classified information with his biographer, with whom he was having an affair.
In that case, however, the FBI had evidence that Petraeus knew the information was highly classified. Petraeus eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanour charge of mishandling classified information.
Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump has hammered Clinton on the issue, saying the investigation should disqualify her from being president, and he is unlikely to let up.
The likely Democratic presidential nominee’s use of private email has been a talking point in the election, with critics saying Mrs Clinton believes she is above the law.
Trump called the decision “very unfair” and said Mrs Clinton’s use of private email compromised national security.
On Tuesday, he said the FBI’s decision was unfair. “The system is rigged,” he said on Twitter. “As usual, bad judgment.”
Comey’s announcement came hours before Clinton’s first campaign appearance with President Barack Obama, in North Carolina. It also came less than three weeks before the Democratic National Convention at which Clinton is to be nominated as the party’s candidate for the Nov. 8 election.
Mrs Clinton said she set up the email address for reasons of convenience, because it was easier to do everything from one device than to have several phones or tablets.
She had previously said she did not knowingly send any classified material from her account.
But investigators found that a number of messages that were marked classified at the time were sent from her account.
The FBI ended its investigation after agents interviewed Mrs Clinton for more than three hours over the weekend about her email habits.
The Department of Justice will ultimately decide whether to press charges, but Attorney General Loretta Lynch has said she would follow the FBI’s recommendation.
The Clinton campaign said on Tuesday that they were “glad that this matter is now resolved”.
Mrs Clinton’s campaign says it showed that her practices were consistent with those of other secretaries of state who “also used personal email” and she was “not unique” in doing it.
However, she has apologised for using the private email system, calling it “a mistake.”
“As I look back at it now, even though it was allowed, I should have used two accounts… I’m sorry about that. I take responsibility,” she said.
The FBI has been investigating whether Clinton broke the law as result of personal email servers kept in her Chappaqua, New York, home while she was secretary of state from 2009 to 2013. One of the questions is whether she mishandled classified information on the servers.
In the UK vote yesterday, Mrs May got 165 of the 329 votes cast by Tory MPs. Andrea Leadsom came second with 66 votes. Michael Gove got 48.
Liam Fox, who came last with 16 votes, has been eliminated. Stephen Crabb, who got 34 votes, has decided to drop out.
Further voting will narrow the field to two. The eventual outcome, decided by party members, is due on 9 September.
Mrs May – who went in to the contest as the frontrunner – and Mr Crabb, the work and pensions secretary, both campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU.
Mrs Leadsom, an energy minister, Mr Gove, the justice secretary, and Mr Fox, a former defence secretary, campaigned for Brexit.
The leadership contest has been sparked by David Cameron’s decision to step down as prime minster after the UK voted by 52 per cent to 48 per cent to leave the EU, in the 23 June referendum.