WASHINGTON (CN) — Weathering backlash in Congress, FBI Director James Comey testified Thursday that Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified emails did not meet the standard of criminality that brought down other officials, like Gen. David Petraeus.
On the heels of Comey’s recommendation, the Justice Department officially closed its year-long investigation into Clinton on Wednesday.
The Republican-led House Oversight and Government Reform Committee convened this morning’s hearing to understand how the FBI could give Clinton a pass on what Comey called “extremely careless” handling of classified emails during her tenure as secretary of state.
Comey brought up the investigation into the former commander of the Iraq war to differentiate between criminal intent and careless behavior.
With Petraeus, “we found highly classified documents, including special, sensitive department information … hidden in the insulation of his attic,” Comey said. “[Petraeus] lied about it,” Comey added. “He admitted he knew it was the wrong thing to do. That’s a perfect example of the kind of cases that get prosecuted.”
Petraeus pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge for mishandling classified documents in 2015.
As for Clinton, Comey told Congress that the former secretary kept State Department emails on her private server as a matter of convenience, not to conceal information from anyone.
This did not appear to satisfy Rep. Cynthia Lummis.
Citing Clinton’s body of experience as an esteemed attorney, high-ranking government official and former first lady, the Wyoming Republican said it was difficult to believe that intent was off the table for Clinton.
“[Her] intent here was to retain the documents at an unauthorized location,” Lummis said. “Not an intent to pass [the emails] onto a terrorist or pass them off to someone in internet land.”
Comey would not bend.
“It’s more than that,” the FBI director said. “You would have to show that and intent. That’s the challenge. ‘Should have known, must have known,’ does not get you there.”
Comey emphasized that “two things matter in a criminal investigation of a subject.”
The first is “what did the person do,” Comey said.
Second, “when they did that thing, what were they thinking?”
“We don’t put people in jail unless we prove that they knew what they were doing something they shouldn’t do,” Comey said.
Although Comey conceded that he saw “great carelessness” in Clinton’s actions, he saw no evidence to establish that Clinton knew she was breaking the law.
“No reasonable prosecutor would bring this case, in 100 years, on gross negligence,” Comey said.
Democrats slammed this morning’s hearing as an act of political theater.
Questioning the need for the hearing on the conclusion of a year-long investigation, Rep. Elijah Cummings said House Republicans are doing “what they always do.”
They want “to keep investigating claims that have already been debunked just to keep [the allegations] in headlines for one more day,” said Cummings, a ranking member on the committee and Maryland Democrat.
Clinton echoed this sentiment Thursday afternoon.
“Despite the partisan motivations of this hearing, we are glad it took place and that Director Comey had the opportunity to expand upon his remarks from earlier this week,” the presumptive Democratic nominee for president said in a statement.
“Director Comey’s testimony clearly knocked down a number of false Republican talking points and reconciled apparent contradictions between his previous remarks and Hillary Clinton’s public statements,” Clinton added.
Clinton said Comey’s “explanations shut the door on any remaining conspiracy theories once and for all.”
“While Republicans may try to keep this issue alive, this hearing proved those efforts will only backfire,” she continued.
Rep. William Lacy Clay also called the committee’s request for the hearing “an abuse of federal funds,” accusing Republicans of engaging in a “partisan political witch hunt at taxpayer expense.”
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, an Ohio Republican who chairs the committee, hammered on Comey’s findings.
“It seems to a lot of us that if the average Joe, the average American, had done what you lay out in your statement, they’d be in handcuffs,” Chaffetz said.
“If your name isn’t Clinton, or you’re not part of the powerful elite, that Lady Justice will act different,” Chaffetz added. “She’ll take that blindfold off and come to a different conclusion.”
The congressman tried to nail Comey down for a supposed disconnect between his findings and his recommendation.
“There is a perceived gap between the things you said on Tuesday and your recommendation … so, I beg you to fill the gap … even if it takes hell freezing over,” Cummings said.
Comey assured the committee that the investigation was conducted ethically.
“We conducted this investigation with the highest traditions of the FBI and did it in an apolitical and professional way,” Comey added.
Among the other Republican committee members to echo Chaffetz’s points were Rep. Trey Gowdy, of South Carolina; Jim Jordan, of Ohio; Ron DeSantis, of Florida; and Mark Meadows, of North Carolina.
They argued that Clinton lied under oath when she said that she turned over all of the work-related emails on her private server; that her attorneys reviewed all of the emails; and that there was no emails marked as classified.
Comey said he believed Clinton did not lie under oath when she met with the FBI last weekend, but Chaffetz pushed for an investigation of Clinton’s statements under oath to be conducted and promised Comey that a referral to investigate would be delivered to the FBI in a “matter of hours.”
Rep. Gowdy asked the director to explain the truth of Clinton’s own statements as well as the actions of her attorneys who reviewed the emails before giving the FBI full access. Gowdy asked Comey if her lawyers had read all of the emails, to which Comey said they had not.
Rep. Jordan also questioned the handling of evidence by Clinton’s team of lawyers.
“Her legal team decides which [emails the State Department] gets and which ones they get to keep … and the ones they kept, they destroyed them,” Jordan said. Jordan also asked Comey to testify as to whether or not Clinton approved the deletion of emails and if the director had asked Clinton during her meeting with the FBI on Saturday.
“I don’t believe we did,” he said.
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