Why the FBI made the right choice on Hillary Clinton probe

Hillary Clinton’s supporters say she didn’t willfully mishandle classified information, and that the FBI was right not to prosecute her.
Hillary Clinton’s supporters say she didn’t willfully mishandle classified information, and that the FBI was right not to prosecute her. Getty Images

Sunday’s edition of The Charlotte Observer contained a column by Ken Bell, a former assistant U.S. attorney, who challenges FBI Director James Comey’s conclusion that no reasonable prosecutor would indict Secretary Clinton.

Although I’m sure that Mr. Bell was a conscientious U.S. attorney, he was a Republican nominee for Congress in 1990, so his partisan perspective on the investigation cannot be overlooked.

In contrast to Mr. Bell’s conclusion based on a “five-minute Google search,” Director Comey’s decision not to indict was the result of an investigation “requiring thousands of hours of effort.”

Mr. Bell quotes Comey’s comment that “only facts matter,” so let’s examine the facts:

Secretary Clinton’s testimony before the Benghazi Committee confirmed that she used a secure system to transmit items known to be classified. The intense focus on her emails relates to communications on her personal account, which was never intended for classified communications.

State Department rules for marking classified items require specific headings and other markers to indicate classification status. As Comey noted, it was reasonable for Secretary Clinton to conclude that emails that did not contain such markers were not classified. Out of the thousands of emails received from hundreds of professional diplomats, not a single one contained all required markings indicating classified status. Although the FBI review indicated that 110 emails (out of over 30,000) “should have been” classified at the time, none of those emails sent and received by those professionals contained the required markings.

Clinton was not the first Secretary of State to use a personal e-mail account. Secretary Powell has acknowledged using a personal e-mail account for communicating about State Department matters. The State Department Inspector General report stated that Secretary Powell did not retain those e-mails. Secretary Clinton, on the other hand, has provided tens of thousands of e-mails.

The Inspector General also noted that Secretary Powell and staff working for Secretary Rice received classified e-mails on personal accounts.

Mr. Bell asserts that Secretary Clinton “intended to keep classified e-mails on unsecured servers.” There is absolutely no evidence to support that claim. As conceded by Comey, Secretary Clinton had every reason to rely on the determinations made by career diplomats that the materials did not require classification.

Mr. Bell claims that “Clinton placed her compulsion for privacy and personal convenience above the security interests of the country.” Again, there is no evidence to support such a claim – just as there is no reason to believe that Secretary Powell did so.

It is unfortunate that the enemies of Secretary Clinton find it necessary to fabricate a claim about her veracity based on insignificant marks embedded in three out of 30,000-plus emails. It is my hope that the American people will see through those efforts and see her as a distinguished public servant who, in the words of President Obama, is the most qualified person ever to run for President.

David Tinkler is an attorney who lives in Davidson.