Former FBI lawyer Lisa Page testified last year that officials in the bureau, including then-FBI Director James Comey, discussed Espionage Act charges against Hillary Clinton, citing “gross negligence,” but the Justice Department shut them down.
Newly released transcripts from Page’s private testimony in front of a joint task force of the House Judiciary and Oversight committees in July 2018 sheds new light on the internal discussions about an investigation into Clinton’s emails. This goes back to the FBI’s “Midyear Exam” investigation, which looked into whether Clinton committed crimes when she sent and received classified information on her unauthorized private email server while serving as secretary of state.
Comey cleared Clinton of all charges in a press conference on July 5, 2016.
Page told the committee that the FBI “did not blow over gross negligence.” Responding to a question from Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, Page testified the FBI, including Comey, believed Clinton may have committed gross negligence. “We, in fact — and, in fact, the Director — because, on its face, it did seem like, well, maybe there’s a potential here for this to be the charge. And we had multiple conversations, multiple conversations with the Justice Department about charging gross negligence,” she said.
Page further testified the DOJ put a stop to that: “The Justice Department’s assessment was that it was both constitutionally vague, so that they did not actually feel that they could permissibly bring that charge.” The specific statute being referenced, 18 U.S. Code § 793, deals in part with “gross negligence” in the handling of national defense information, which Clinton came under scrutiny for possibly violating.
Page said Comey and the FBI spoke with DOJ about a gross negligence charge for Clinton multiple times, but that the DOJ consistently pushed back on it. “We had multiple conversations with the Justice Department about bringing a gross negligence charge. And that’s, as I said, the advice that we got from the Department was that they did not think — that it was constitutionally vague and not sustainable,” she said.
Page responded: “That’s correct.”
Page is the former FBI lawyer who reportedly carried out an affair with FBI agent Peter Strzok, the lead investigator in the Clinton investigation. The thousands of text messages that they sent back and forth about the Clinton and Trump-Russia investigations raised questions of bias, and Mueller eventually removed Strzok from the special counsel investigation. Strzok was also fired by the FBI.
Page’s testimony raises further questions related to the decision not to charge Clinton with any crimes, including gross negligence, following a lengthy FBI investigation into her email practices that potentially put classified information at risk. After the revelation that then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch met with former President Bill Clinton on a Phoenix tarmac in June 2016, while Hillary Clinton was running for president, Lynch refused to recuse herself from the case while also saying she would accept Comey’s decision on what charges to bring against Clinton. But Page’s testimony indicates that DOJ had shut the door on gross negligence.
Comey gave an infamous press conference on July 5, 2016, where he listed Clinton’s numerous missteps, including the fact that 110 emails in 52 email chains contained classified information at the time they were sent or received by Clinton. But he would not recommend charging her with any crimes, and the phrase “extremely careless” (not a crime) would be used instead of “gross negligence” (a chargeable offense).
It was Strzok who reportedly changed the language in Comey’s draft statement from “grossly negligent” in an earlier draft to “extremely careless” in the final statement.
At the time, the National Review’s Andy McCarthy wrote, “According to Director James Comey, Hillary Clinton checked every box required for a felony violation of Section 793(f) of the federal penal code … and, in essence, in order to give Mrs. Clinton a pass, the FBI rewrote the statute.”
It was previously reported that a chart had been shared inside the FBI which did not include “gross negligence” on the list of potential criminal violations that Clinton could’ve been charged with. In front of Congress last year, an email containing the chart was reportedly shown to the assistant director of the FBI’s counterintelligence division Bill Priestap. He testified that he didn’t know why the email said, “DOJ not willing to charge this.” Page’s testimony indicates that the decision not to charge Clinton with gross negligence came directly from the DOJ.
Priestap also testified that “if there is a Federal criminal statute still on the books, then, you know — and we think there may or might be a violation of that, we still have to work to uncover whether, in fact, there was.” Page testified that the DOJ pushed back on the FBI’s desire to explore the gross negligence charge.