James Comey

Press Statement Following Initial Investigation of Secretary Hillary Clinton's Use of Personal E-Mail System

delivered 5 July 20216, FBI National Press Office, Washington, D.C.

Audio AR-XE mp3 of Address

click for pdf


[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]

Good morning. Iím here to give you an update on the FBIís investigation of Secretary Clintonís use of a personal e-mail system during her time as Secretary of State.

After a tremendous amount of work over the last year, the FBI is completing its investigation and referring the matter to the Department of Justice for a prosecutive decision. What I would like to do today is three things: I want to tell you what we did; I want to tell you what we found; and I want to tell you what we're recommending to the Department of Justice.

This is going to be an unusual statement in at least a couple ways. First, I'm going to include more detail about our process than I ordinarily would, because I think the American people deserve those details in a case of intense public interest. And second, I have not coordinated this statement or reviewed it in any way with the Department of Justice or any other part of the government. They do not know what I'm about to say.

But I want to start by thanking the FBI employees who did remarkable work in this case. Once you have a better sense of how much we have done, you will understand why I am so grateful and so proud of their work.

So, first, what we have done.

This investigation began as a referral from the Intelligence Community Inspector General in connection with Secretary Clintonís use of a personal e-mail server during her time as Secretary of State. The referral focused on whether classified information was transmitted on that personal system.

Our investigation looked at whether there is evidence that classified information was improperly stored or transmitted on that personal system, in violation of a federal statute that makes it a felony to mishandle classified information either intentionally or in a grossly negligent way; or a second statute making it a misdemeanor to knowingly remove classified information from appropriate systems or storage facilities.

And consistent with our counterintelligence responsibilities, we have also investigated to determine if there is evidence of computer intrusion by nations states or by hostile actors of any kind.

Now, I have so far used the singular term, "e-mail server" in describing the referral that began our investigation. It turns out to have been more complicated than that. Secretary Clinton used several different servers, and administrators of those servers, during her four years at the State Department. And she also used numerous mobile devices to send and to read e-mail on that personal domain. As new servers and equipment were employed, older servers were taken out of service, stored, and decommissioned in various ways. Piecing all of that back together -- to gain as full an understanding as possible of the ways in which personal e-mail was used for government work -- has been a painstaking undertaking, requiring thousands of hours of effort.

For example, when one of Secretary Clintonís servers was decommissioned in 2013, the e-mail software was removed. That didn't remove the e-mail content, but it was like removing the frame from a huge unfinished jigsaw puzzle and then dumping all the pieces on the floor. The effect was that millions of e-mail fragments ended up in the serverís unused -- or "slack" -- space. We searched through all of it to understand what was there and what parts of the puzzle could be put back together again.

FBI investigators also read all of the approximately 30,000 e-mails that Secretary Clinton provided to the State Department in 2014. Where an e-mail was assessed as possibly containing classified information, the FBI referred that e-mail to any government agency that might be an "owner" of that information, so that agency could make a determination as to whether the e-mail contained classified information at the time it was sent or received, or whether there was reason to classify it now, even if its content had not been classified when it was first sent or received -- and that's the process sometimes referred to as "up-classifying."

From the group of 30,000 e-mails returned to the State Department in 2014, 110 e-mails in 52 e-mail chains have been determined by the owning agency to contain classified information at the time they were sent or received; eight of those chains contained information that was "Top Secret" at the time they were sent; 36 of those chains contained "Secret" information at the time; and eight contained "Confidential" information at the time -- that's the lowest level of classification. Separate from those, about 2,000 additional e-mails were up-classified to make them Confidential; those e-mails had not been classified at the time that they were sent or received.

The FBI also discovered several thousand work-related e-mails that were not among the group of 30,000 e-mails returned by Secretary Clinton to State in 2014. We found those e-mails in a variety of ways. Some had been deleted over the years and we found traces of them on servers or devices that had been connected to the private e e-mail domain. Others we found by reviewing the archived government [e-mail] accounts of people who had been government employees at the same time as Secretary Clinton, including high-ranking officials at other agencies, folks with whom a Secretary of State might normally correspond.

This helped us recover work-related e-mails that were not among the 30,000 that were produced to State. Still others we recovered from that painstaking review of the millions of e-mail fragments dumped into the slack space of the server that was decommissioned in 2013.

With respect to the thousands of e-mails we found that were not among those produced to the State Department, agencies have concluded that three of those were classified at the time they were sent or received, one at the Secret level and two at the Confidential level. There were no additional Top Secret e-mails found. And finally, none of those we found have since been up-classified.

I should add here that we found no evidence that any of the additional work-related e-mails were intentionally deleted in an effort to conceal them in some way. Our assessment is that, like many e-mail users, Secretary Clinton periodically deleted e-mails or e-mails were purged from her system when devices were changed. Because she was not using a government account -- or even a commercial account like Gmail -- there was no archiving at all of her e-mails, so it's not surprising that we discovered e-mails that were not on Secretary Clintonís system in 2014, when she produced those 30,000 some e-mails to State.

It could also be that some of the additional work-related e-mails that we've recovered were among those deleted as "personal" by her lawyers when they reviewed and sorted her e-mails for production in late 2014.

The lawyers doing the sorting for Secretary Clinton in 2014 did not individually read the content of all of her e-mails, as we did for those available to us; instead, they relied on header information and they used search terms to try to find all work-related e-mails among the reportedly more than 60,000 that were remaining on her system at the end of 2014. It's highly likely that their search missed some work-related e-mails, and that we later found them, for example, in the mailboxes of other officials or in the slack space of a server.

It's also likely that there are other work-related e-mails that they did not produce to State and that we did not find elsewhere, and that are now gone because they deleted all e-mails they did not produce to State, and the lawyers then cleaned their devices in such a way as to preclude complete forensic recovery.

We have conducted interviews and done technical examination to attempt to understand exactly how that sorting was done by her attorneys. Although we don't have complete visibility because we're not able to fully reconstruct the electronic record of that sorting, we believe our investigation has been sufficient to give us reasonable confidence there was no intentional misconduct in connection with that sorting effort.

And, of course, in addition to our technical work, we interviewed many people, from those involved in setting up the personal e-mail system and maintaining the various iterations of Secretary Clintonís server, to staff members with whom she corresponded on e-mail, to those involved in the e-mail production to State, and finally, Secretary Clinton herself.

Last, we have done extensive work to try to understand what indications there might be of compromise by hostile actors in connection with that personal e-mail operation.

So thatís what we have done. Now let me tell you what we found.

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.

For example, seven e-mail chains concern matters that were classified at the Top Secret/Special Access Program at the time they were sent and received. Those chains involved Secretary Clinton both sending e-mails about those matters and receiving e-mails about those same matters. There is evidence to support a conclusion that any reasonable person in Secretary Clintonís position, or in the position of those with whom she was corresponding about those matters, should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation. In addition to this highly sensitive information, we also found information that was properly classified as Secret by the U.S. Intelligence Community at the time it was discussed on e-mail (that is, excluding any later "up-classified" e-mails).

None of these e-mails should have been on any kind of unclassified system, but their presence is especially concerning because all of these e-mails were housed on unclassified personal servers not even supported by full-time security staff, like those found at Agencies and Departments of the United States Government -- or even with a commercial e-mail service like Gmail.

I think it's also important to say something about the marking of classified information. Only a very small number of the e-mails here containing classified information bore markings that indicated the presence of classified information. But even if information is not marked "classified" in an e-mail, participants who know or should know that the subject matter is classified are still obligated to protect it.

And while not the focus of our investigation, we also developed evidence that the security culture of the State Department -- in general, and with respect to use of unclassified e-mail systems in particular, was generally lacking in the kind of care for classified information that's found elsewhere in the U.S. government.

With respect to potential computer intrusion by hostile actors, we did not find direct evidence that Secretary Clintonís personal e-mail domain, in its various configurations since 2009, was hacked successfully. But, given the nature of the system and of the actors potentially involved, we assess we would be unlikely to see such direct evidence. We do assess that hostile actors gained access to the private commercial e-mail accounts of people with whom Secretary Clinton was in regular contact from her personal account.

We also assess that Secretary Clintonís use of a personal e-mail domain was both known by a large number of people and readily apparent. She also used her personal e-mail extensively while outside the United States, including sending and receiving work-related e-mails in the territory of sophisticated adversaries. Given that combination of factors, we assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clintonís personal e-mail account.

So thatís what we found. Finally, with respect to our recommendation to the Department of Justice.

In our system, the prosecutors make the decisions about whether charges are appropriate based on evidence that the FBI helps collect. Although we donít normally make public our recommendations to the prosecutors, we frequently make recommendations and engage in productive conversations with prosecutors about what resolution may be appropriate, given the evidence. In this case, given the importance of the matter, I think unusual transparency is in order.

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. Prosecutors necessarily weigh a number of factors before deciding whether to bring charges. There are obvious considerations, like the strength of the evidence, especially regarding intent. Responsible decisions also consider the context of a personís actions, and how similar situations have been handled in the past.

In looking back at our investigations into the mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts. All the cases prosecuted involved some combination of: clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information; or vast quantities of information exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct; or indications of disloyalty to the United States; or efforts to obstruct justice. We do not see those things here.

To be clear, this is not to suggest that in similar circumstances, a person who engaged in this activity would face no consequences. To the contrary, those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions. But that's not what we're deciding now.

As a result, although the Department of Justice makes final decisions on matters like this, we are expressing to Justice our view that no charges are appropriate in this case.

I know there will be intense public debate in the wake of this recommendation, as there was throughout this investigation. What I can assure the American people [of] is that this investigation was done honestly, competently, and independently. No outside influence of any kind was brought to bear.

I know there were many opinions expressed by people who were not part of the investigation, including people in government, but none of that mattered to us. Opinions are irrelevant, and they were all uninformed by insight into our investigation because we did the investigation the right way. Only facts matter, and the FBI found them here in an entirely apolitical and professional way. I couldnít be prouder to be part of this organization.

Thank you, very much.

Book/CDs by Michael E. Eidenmuller, Published by McGraw-Hill (2008)

Original Text Source: FBI.gov

Text Note: Exceptionally well structured piece of rhetoric, including, among others: 1) a clear purpose statement at the outset; 2) a multidimensional rationale as to the significance of the speech; 3) the use of three distinct content divisions ( Introduction, Body, Conclusion); 4) a preview in the Introduction of content to come ("What I would like to do today is tell you three things..."); 5) one ("So, first, what we have done") and two part ("Thatís what we have done. Now let me tell you what we found") transitional statements in the Body of the speech linking the content divisions; and 6) the precise execution in the Body of the speech of what had been formally detailed in the Introduction.

Original Audio and Video Source: C-SPAN.org

Page Updated: 1/30/22

U.S. Copyright Status: Text, Audio, Video = Property of AmericanRhetoric.com.
































Top 100 American Speeches

Online Speech Bank

Movie Speeches

© Copyright 2001-Present. 
American Rhetoric.
HTML transcription by Michael E. Eidenmuller.