Politics

Comey drafted Clinton exoneration before finishing investigation

Former FBI Director James Comey drafted a statement exonerating former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for running her government emails through a private email server before completing the investigation, according to two Republican senators.

Comey prepared the draft exoneration for Clinton before conducting interviews with top Clinton aides who were offered immunity for their cooperation, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley and Sen. Lindsey Graham said Thursday in a joint statement, citing transcripts of interviews with former Comey aides obtained by the Senate judiciary committee.

Comey would go on to announce in July 2016 that the FBI would not recommend charges against Clinton -- although he sharply chastised her decision to conduct State Department business through a private email server.

"Conclusion first, fact-gathering second -- that's no way to run an investigation. The FBI should be held to a higher standard than that, especially in a matter of such great public interest and controversy," Grassley and Graham wrote in a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray seeking more information -- including all drafts of Comey's final statement on Clinton's emails by September 13.

None of the committee's Democrats signed onto the request.

President Donald Trump commented on the senators' statement Friday morning: "Wow, looks like James Comey exonerated Hillary Clinton long before the investigation was over...and so much more. A rigged system!" he tweeted.

Earlier this year, Comey testified before Congress that his decision to make the public announcement in July -- something that rarely happens when investigators decide not to pursue charges -- came because of political pressure he said he felt from Attorney General Loretta Lynch to downplay the investigation.

The transcripts released to the Senate judiciary committee come from interviews of FBI aides to Comey, conducted as part of a personnel investigation of him by the Office of Special Counsel (which is unrelated to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.)

In one exchange from the redacted transcripts, an unidentified FBI aide says that Comey first wrote a draft of the July statement in May 2016.

"There were many iterations, at some point, there were many iterations of the draft that circulated," the unidentified aide said.

The FBI has not responded to CNN's request for information.

A person familiar with the matter pushed back on the notion that Comey had already reached a conclusion that affected the investigation.

The person said back in spring 2016, agents and Justice Department officials were talking about how the investigation would end and there was a belief that the evidence was going in a direction to not support bringing charges. This individual said by April 2016 the FBI had reviewed most of the evidence and didn't find evidence suggesting that Clinton had violated federal law. The person said the FBI wanted to interview her but didn't believe it was going to change the outcome.

The source also said Comey was not involved in the day-to-day steps of the investigation, so even if he reached a conclusion it wouldn't have affected the result of the investigation.

A second person familiar with the matter told CNN that Comey had not already made up his mind, and that it did not influence the investigation. The second source says the FBI had already reviewed much of the evidence by spring and it was becoming more clear that it was not likely to support bringing charges.

Comey's handling of the Clinton email case has been a rare instance of Washington of successfully ticking off Republicans and Democrats almost across the board, although for very different reasons. Republicans accused Comey of going soft on Clinton, while Democrats blasted him for later resurrecting the issue with just days left in the 2016 election.

Comey, in testimony before the Senate judiciary committee this past May, said he felt "nauseous" at the thought of having swayed the election.

Roughly a week later, Trump fired Comey.
 


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