In the first draft of a statement former FBI Director James Comey prepared for the press when he discussed the bureau’s criminal investigation into then-Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton last summer, he dropped language that would have directly implicated her in a crime.
As reported by The Hill, the draft, which was obtained by Congress last week, accused Clinton of “gross negligence” in her mishandling of classified email and data via her improper use of a personal, unsecured server.
But when Comey gave his press conference in July 2016, he instead accused Clinton of being “extremely careless” in her handling of classified information, a much softer tone that has far less serious implications.
As noted by The Hill, the change is more than just semantics: Federal law specifically states that “gross negligence” is the standard by which federal prosecutors use when taking national security violations to court. Mishandling national security and intelligence is punishable by prison time, heavy fines or both.
The relevant statute is 18 U.S. Code § 793, which states in part:
Whoever, being entrusted with or having lawful possession or control of any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, note, or information, relating to the national defense, (1) through gross negligence permits the same to be removed from its proper place of custody or delivered to anyone in violation of his trust, or to be lost, stolen, abstracted, or destroyed, or (2) having knowledge that the same has been illegally removed from its proper place of custody or delivered to anyone in violation of its trust, or lost, or stolen, abstracted, or destroyed, and fails to make prompt report of such loss, theft, abstraction, or destruction to his superior officer — shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.
The Hill quoted several unnamed sources who said they had seen the initial draft of Comey’s press statement, which included the “gross negligence” phraseology, and the subsequent, edited version that only accused her of being “extremely careless,” which is not part of the legal standard for prosecution. (Related: The FIX was in: Comey decided MONTHS before FBI finished Clinton probe he would clear her.)
“There is evidence to support a conclusion that Secretary Clinton, and others, used the email server in a manner that was grossly negligent with respect to the handling of classified information,” reads the statement which was taken from one of Comey’s first drafts, dating back to May 2, 2016.
Sources told The Hill the draft was subsequently changed in red-line edits on or about June 10, thereby concluding that the mishandling of at least 110 emails containing classified information that was transmitted by Clinton and her closest aides somehow did not meet the standard for criminal mishandling of national security data.
Documents that have been turned over to Congress thus far do not indicate who made the edits, who may have ordered them, or why they were implemented, The Hill reported.
That said, memos indicate that at least three FBI officials took part in assisting Comey with the editing. They include current Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, General Counsel James Baker and Chief of Staff Jim Rybicki, all of whom — like Comey — likely believed that Hillary, and not Donald J. Trump, was going to be the next president of the United States.
On Monday the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to current FBI Director Christopher Wray requesting information on who was involved in making the changes to Comey’s statement and why.
“Apparently, as of May 2016, then-Director Comey and other FBI officials believed the facts fit that gross negligence standard until later edits were made,” Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in the letter.
Other Republicans have called for separate probes of Comey and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who was in charge of the Justice Department during the FBI’s investigation of Clinton.
J. D. Heyes is a senior writer for Newstarget and editor of The National Sentinel.
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