FBI Director James Comey made clear Tuesday why he doesn’t think Hillary Clinton should face formal charges over her email practices. But—as far as Republicans are concerned—the controversy is far from settled.
Comey’s findings amount to harsh criticisms of Clinton and her cavalier attitude toward classified information, which will provide plenty of fuel to keep the scandal going, even though Clinton, absent an extraordinary turn of events, no longer faces the existential political threat of indictment.
“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,” Comey said.
Here are four things to watch going forward in the saga of Clinton’s private email system.
The push for more email dumps
The rolling, half-year State Department release of roughly 30,000 of Clinton’s work-related emails that ended in February created a feeding frenzy for journalists and opposition researchers. And now, thanks to the FBI, the feast might continue. Comey said the FBI located “several thousand” work-related emails that Clinton had not turned over to the State Department in 2014.
An attorney for Vice News reporter Jason Leopold, whose Freedom of Information Act lawsuit was the vehicle for the public releases, tells National Journal that Leopold is entitled to those messages.
“The ‘several thousand work-related emails that were not in the group of 30,000 that were returned by Secretary Clinton to State in 2014’ clearly fall within the scope of Mr. Leopold’s request,” said Ryan James.
State Department spokesman John Kirby signaled that more emails could be made public. “As we have said for many months, we will work with the FBI to determine the appropriate disposition of potential federal records it has recovered,” he said in a prepared statement.
What’s next on Capitol Hill?
Comey raked Clinton over the coals for her handling of classified information (even if some of information deemed classified probably never deserved that label). The finding is among several by Comey that provide ammunition for GOP political attacks.
Senior House Republicans made clear Tuesday that they want much more information about Comey’s investigation and strongly attacked his recommendation against prosecution. Look for Comey to be called before lawmakers.
“We are going to have hearings,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said on Fox News on Tuesday night, adding that Oversight and Government Affairs Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz would call Comey as a witness.
“This certainly does underscore the belief that the Clintons live above the law, and this is one of the reasons why people are so dissatisfied, so upset about government,” Ryan said of Comey’s recommendation. Chaffetz has long been interested in probing Clinton’s email practices, but had previously been stymied by GOP leadership. Now he has the green light from Ryan.
It remains to be seen how, precisely, Capitol Hill Republicans will deploy the power of their investigative and oversight committees to launch any new probes. Clinton’s email has already been under investigation by the Senate’s Judiciary and Homeland Security Committees, and was also a focus of the House Select Committee on Benghazi.
But multiple other committees could get in on the action. Beyond Chaffetz, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte wrote toComey on Tuesday attacking his recommendation against charging Clinton and asking for responses to several questions in one week.
Across Capitol Hill, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley signaled that he’s not done with the issue by demanding more information from Comey. “If [the FBI] wants to avoid giving the impression that the FBI was pulling punches, because many people in a similar situation would face some sort of consequence, the agency must now be more transparent than ever in releasing information gathered during its investigation,” Grassley said.
A test of Trump’s skill
Comey’s findings are tailor-made for Donald Trump’s effort to cast Clinton as untrustworthy and raise questions about her judgment.
Beyond hitting Clinton on the handling of classified information, Comey could not rule out the possibility that Clinton’s email was hacked despite the lack of “direct evidence,” in part because Clinton used personal email “extensively” outside the U.S. and in the territory of “sophisticated adversaries.”
But the young general-election fight has already seen Trump, with his penchant for outrageous and offensive statements and tweets, blunder away the chance to capitalize politically on other issues.
Trump’s response and initial reactions on Twitter—including a tweet noting: “FBI director said Crooked Hillary compromised our national security. No charges. Wow! #RiggedSystem”—didn’t provide any immediate escape hatches for Clinton or make the story about himself.
Still, he quickly went beyond the information that Comey provided in alleging, “Our adversaries almost certainly have a blackmail file on Hillary Clinton, and this fact alone disqualifies her from service.”
Meanwhile, down the ballot …
Republicans will try to use Comey’s tough criticisms of Clinton’s email practices as reinforcements in what’s shaping up as a difficult congressional election season for the GOP. Just as Democrats have tried to make GOP candidates squirm by tying them to Trump, so too will Republicans seek to make Democrats on the ballot answer for Clinton’s missteps.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, which is a super PAC that supports House Republicans, quickly tried to tether Comey’s findings to House Democrats.
“The FBI’s scathing review proves voters are right to distrust and dislike Hillary Clinton. And try as they may, House Democrats will have no place to hide from a long-time Democratic Party fixture like Hillary Clinton. They’ll be answering for her scandal-plagued record and reckless policies all the way to the ballot box,” the group said.