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Hillary Clinton Interviewed By F.B.I. Regarding Private Server Investigation

Hillary Clinton Blackberry

In a sign that the ongoing F.B.I. investigation into her use of a private email server and the subsequent handling of classified information while she was Secretary of State may be nearing an end, Hillary Clinton sat down today for an interview with F.B.I. agents:

The F.B.I. interviewed Hillary Clinton on Saturday morning for its investigation into whether she or her aides broke the law by setting up a private email server for her use as secretary of state, her campaign said.

“Secretary Clinton gave a voluntary interview this morning about her email arrangements while she was secretary,” Nick Merrill, a campaign spokesman, said in a statement. “She is pleased to have had the opportunity to assist the Department of Justice in bringing this review to a conclusion.”

The campaign declined to elaborate on the substance of the interview, which lasted about three and a half hours at F.B.I. Headquarters in Washington. Shortly afterward, two black S.U.V.s were seen returning to Mrs. Clinton’s house in the capital.

The investigation has loomed over Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign, as Republicans have seized on the issue to question the presumptive Democratic nominee’s judgment.

On Friday, the campaign of Donald J. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, blasted out an email titled “The Facts on Clinton’s Secret Server” that included articles about the emails marked classified that had been sent or stored on Mrs. Clinton’s private server.

The central question in the Justice Department effort is whether the actions met the legal standard for the crime of mishandling classified information.

Mrs. Clinton’s sit-down with the F.B.I. came amid controversy over a meeting between her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who ran into each other on Monday at the Phoenix airport while Mr. Clinton was fund-raising for his wife’s campaign.

To avoid any appearance of political meddling, Ms. Lynch said on Friday she would accept the recommendations of career prosecutors and the F.B.I. director regarding whether to bring charges. She said she had made that decision several months ago, before the criticism surrounding her meeting with Mr. Clinton.

She described the meeting as a casual conversation that did not touch on the investigation. But it added to the Clinton campaign’s headaches over the email inquiry, which they had hoped to put behind them before the Democratic convention this month.

More from The Washington Post:

FBI agents interviewed Hillary Clinton for 3½ hours Saturday morning — a signal that the investigation into her use of a private email account while she was secretary of state is drawing to a close.

Clinton campaign spokesman Nick Merrill said in a statement that Clinton “gave a voluntary interview this morning about her email arrangements while she was Secretary,” and added, “She is pleased to have had the opportunity to assist the Department of Justice in bringing this review to a conclusion.”

The investigation is not over: Agents and prosecutors will now have to compare what the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee said Saturday to other evidence they have gathered, including from interviews with Clinton’s aides. But officials familiar with the probe have said meeting with Clinton would be reserved for the end of the investigation.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment, and Merrill said in the statement that Clinton would not comment further on her interview, which took place at FBI headquarters, “out of respect for the investigative process.”

(…)

People familiar with the case have said previously that charges against Clinton seemed unlikely, though they asserted investigators were still probing the matter aggressively. And the interview with Clinton was always seen as critical. If the former secretary was untruthful with investigators, she could be charged with making false statements. That charge was contemplated in the case against former Army general and CIA director David H. Petraeus, though he ultimately pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified information.

The reports are unclear, but one presumes that Clinton was represented by counsel during the course of this meeting, which was of course entirely voluntarily on Clinton’s part since she cannot be compelled to sit for an interview during which she could theoretically incriminate herself. Indeed, anyone who speaks to law enforcement without counsel under circumstances such as this would be incredibly stupid and, whatever else one might thing Hillary Clinton is not that stupid. The reason for this, of course, is that misrepresentations to a Federal Agent are considered a crime independent of the underlying charges that might be brought against a Defendant, and such misrepresentations can be presumed even from seemingly innocent inconsistent statements. Just ask Martha Stewart and Scooter Libby, both of whom were convicted on charges of lying during the course of similar interviews even though they were acquitted of the underlying charges against them. It’s also apparent that we likely won’t learn anything about the content of this meeting until the investigation is complete and a final report, if any, is issued, which could come at any point now since an interview of the principal subject of the investigation is typically the last step in the F.B.I.’s investigation. The big unknown is when that final report, or any indictments that may result from it, can be expected.

As things stand, nobody can say with any certainty whether or not Clinton or anyone close to her is in serious danger of being indicted in connection with this matter, largely because investigators have managed to keep a fairly tight lid on the investigation so it’s impossible to know for sure what they have uncovered or what conclusions they might be leaning toward. In fact, anyone who tells you that they know for sure what will happen is essentially making things up and can be safely ignored. That being said, my suspicion is that unless the Bureau was able to uncover evidence that material that was actually marked classified was exchanged and stored on the server and that Clinton or other users were aware of that fact or can be shown to have taken steps to strip classification language from the material to mask its classified nature, then it’s unlikely that we’ll see any indictments here. It’s true that someone in Clinton’s position, as well as her aides, is responsible for protecting the integrity of classified information even if it isn’t marked as such, it is obviously much harder to prove knowledge and intent in those cases than it would be with information already marked classified. Additionally, the Bureau and the Justice Department are no doubt well aware of the possible impact indictments could have on the political climate, as such one suspects that they are going to be reluctant to recommend action unless there is clear evidence of knowing wrongdoing by Clinton or someone working for her. Whether any such evidence exists is something we cannot know at this point.

Notwithstanding all of that, Chris Cillizza is right when he notes that the next several weeks are likely to be a high-stress time for the Clinton campaign as they await possible word of what the F.B.I, and Justice Department might do:

Assuming that logic is right, then the next two weeks will be critical for the presidential race. The FBI won’t announce anything Sunday or July 4. Which means the agency will have between July 5 and July 25 to make public its decision on the case. That’s not a long time. (Side note: I think it is very unlikely the FBI would choose the Republican convention, which opens July 18, to close the investigation. If that’s right, then the Justice Department has even less time.)

All of this is moot if the FBI finds that Clinton did nothing criminal in the email controversy. Republicans will still push it as an issue, but for most of the country it will be considered a settled matter.’

However, if there is an indictment or even a harsh scolding in which the Justice Department implies Clinton knowingly and purposely skirted the law, the timing of all of this starts to matter. A lot.

The closer the announcement comes to the start of the Democratic convention, the harder it is for Clinton to control. Clinton’s goal throughout this investigation has been to insist that she is totally innocent in this, that the entire email “controversy” is a Republican witch hunt enabled by the media.

If, suddenly, the Justice Department of a Democratic administration shattered that story with just days left before the convention, the negative momentum it would cause might make it tough for Clinton to recover. There would be doubts bordering on panic about What It All Means for Clinton going into the fall campaign, and she would have very little time to turn the story back in her favor.

Why does all of that matter? Because — as any Bernie Sanders supporter will tell you — Clinton doesn’t have 2,383 pledged delegates: She has 2,220. This means she needs unpledged superdelegates to put her over the top. If there are major doubts about Clinton’s ability to win in November, there could well be a major move of superdelegates away from her. But to whom?

To be clear, Clinton remains, by far, the most likely nominee for Democrats. But, the uncertainty of both when the FBI will make its findings public and what they will say makes the next two weeks the most unpredictable and pivotal of the 2016 election.

Cillizza is right in his central point. If Clinton is indicted, then the race would be thrown into chaos and it would be hard to see how her campaign could continue as if nothing had happened. So, as they say, stay tuned.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. DrDaveT says:

    It’s true that someone in Clinton’s position […] is responsible for protecting the integrity of classified information even if it isn’t marked as such

    You keep saying this, but it’s wrong (or at least wildly misleading).

    The Secretary of State is an Original Classification Authority (OCA). It is her right and responsibility to decide what level of classification, if any, unmarked materials she receives are entitled to. To a first approximation, she cannot be wrong about this, because it’s her call. Other people can second-guess her, and argue that things should have been classified differently, but that’s just a difference of opinion, not a legal (or even administrative) stance.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. steve s says:

    If Clinton is indicted,

    Bless your heart.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. Doug Huffman says:

    Is it a bad sign of something that we conflate powers and rights?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  4. bill says:

    i bet this time they actually talked golf/grandkids…..
    just feel bad for the agents that had to deal with her lying to their faces with no recourse.

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  5. James Pearce says:

    Here’s Reince Priebus on the matter:

    “The American people need to have confidence that the Obama Justice Department is conducting a fair and impartial investigation, but when the attorney general meets secretly with Bill Clinton just days before Hillary’s interrogation is conducted discreetly over a holiday weekend, it raises serious concerns about special treatment,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement.

    And here’s Donald Trump on Twitter:

    “It is impossible for the FBI not to recommend criminal charges against Hillary Clinton,” Trump tweeted Saturday.

    So you got the chairman of the GOP complaining about “special treatment” and Clinton’s main political rival wanting the FBI to recommend criminal charges.

    Trump may not realize, or he may not care, that’s he’s poisoning any kind of prosecution that might happen with his inflammatory statements. The only thing he should be saying is “wait for the investigation’s results.”

    Priebus, at least, seems smart enough to be laying ground for the political fight ahead: Special treatment, not handcuffs, from the FBI.

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  6. An Interested Party says:

    …just feel bad for the agents that had to deal with her lying to their faces with no recourse.

    Certainly they couldn’t have had it worse than anyone who would have to sit with you for a couple of hours and talk about anything…what your poor alleged black girlfriend must have to deal with…

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  7. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @James Pearce:

    when the attorney general meets SECRETLY with Bill Clinton

    This doesn’t appear to be much of a secret

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  8. Pete S says:

    @Bob@Youngstown: Prebus was not invited, in fact it appears no Republican was brought along. So it was a secret. Any meeting not attended by a Republican is a secret meeting.

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  9. Jenos Idanian says:

    Once again, we have a Clinton in a mess that would have been avoided if the Clinton in question had simply told the truth from the outset. Instead, they have lied, evaded, stonewalled, scapegoated, and whined about “vast right-wing conspiracies.”

    OK, it’s not quite fair to say that it “would” have been avoided. We should say “could” have been avoided, as we can’t test the theory, because it’s never been tested. I can’t recall a time that a Clinton actually told the truth from the outset.

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  10. Moosebreath says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    “I can’t recall a time that a Clinton actually told the truth from the outset.”

    As opposed to the candidate you fluff for, who has more pants-on-fire ratings than everyone else who ran for President this year combined.

    “Trump has more statements rated Pants on Fire, 30, than the 21 other candidates for president we’ve fact-checked this cycle combined. Ben Carson comes in second in “Pants on Fire” ratings — with four!”. Hillary had one.

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  11. Andrew says:

    Regarding the meeting between Mrs. Lynch and Mr. Clinton; the best part regarding this blip of news is the Clinton’s are damn sure smart enough to know this meeting would hit the media. They knew plain and simple. Secret, my butt.

    Career politicians know how to keep things a secret, period. Or they have hired the correct people to make sure it stays that way. You do not get in the positions the Clinton’s have without already having the pieces in place to mask anything they wish. Same goes for major Republican players, so it’s not exclusive to those with (D) next to their name.

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  12. al-Ameda says:

    Just checked the Sunday morning opinion shows and surprisingly, conservatives are in a fever over this – it’s time to drain the swamp … AGAIN. Twenty-five years of fever and swamp draining and nothing ever changes.

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  13. michael reynolds says:

    @Moosebreath:

    I don’t think you quite understand @JenosIdanian’s point, which is this: Donald Trump is a white male.

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  14. Jenos Idanian says:

    @michael reynolds: more importantly, it looks as if none of the dead Americans were white males. Not one of the seven.

    Guess that blows your racist theory to shit…

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  15. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Jenos Idanian: damn, wrong thread…

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  16. James Pearce says:

    @Bob@Youngstown:

    This doesn’t appear to be much of a secret

    Retweets are not endorsements. I posted Preibus’s statement as a window into his thinking, not a reflection of my own, or –it must be said– of reality.

    I do think it’s interesting that Republicans are now questioning the legitimacy of the very investigation they’ve been promoting all summer.

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  17. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @James Pearce: Yeah, but only because they think they need to do it again because they haven’t gotten the right answer, so this investigation must have been corrupted by Trey Gowdy–RINO of the week.

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  18. DrDaveT says:

    @DrDaveT: Any of you downvoters have an actual fact to contribute, to refute my point?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @James Pearce: I didn’t take it as a reflection of your thinking, rather that Preibus is intentionally calling it a secret, when it clearly wasn’t.

    Ironic that the R’s like to call HRC a liar.

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  20. steve s says:

    bill says:
    Saturday, July 2, 2016 at 20:58
    i bet this time they actually talked golf/grandkids…..
    just feel bad for the agents that had to deal with her lying to their faces with no recourse.

    Bill Clinton and Lynch have known each other professionally for 25 years. If they wanted to conspire about Hillary, they would have just called, and had a chat, and you’d never, ever know about it. Believing that they would, instead, conspire openly, in public, with everyone watching, at a chance airport encounter, is extra-special stupid. You’re reaffirming liberal smugness by saying this stuff.

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