Hillary Clinton will not be prosecuted for her use of a private email server, but Republicans still plan to put her on trial.
After FBI director James Comey recommended on Tuesday that Clinton not be indicted, Republicans leaned on a wide array of levers and public pronouncements to prosecute their case against the presumptive Democratic nominee.
House Speaker Paul Ryan published an open letter to the director of national intelligence Wednesday asking that Clinton not receive classified briefings during the presidential campaign, a courtesy typically afforded both nominees.
On Thursday, the Republican-led House Oversight committee brought Comey to testify on Capitol Hill about the investigation, grilling him in a hearing that was broadcast for well over four hours on multiple cable networks. During the hearing, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz announced that he would send Comey a referral to investigate whether Clinton lied to the FBI.
And Republican lawmakers have taken to social media and cable news to rail against Clinton’s private email server.
All are highly public maneuvers designed to keep the email controversy in the limelight. The plan is to to keep alive an issue the Clinton campaign wants ended, and continue to damage Clinton’s already-high untrustworthy poll numbers.
“Hillary Clinton created this mess. It wasn’t Republicans, it wasn’t anyone else,” said Chaffetz at the hearing on Thursday.
A spokesman for Clinton said the campaign was “glad” the hearing took place. “[Director Comey’s] explanations shut the door on any remaining conspiracy theories once and for all. While Republicans may try to keep this issue alive, this hearing proved those efforts will only backfire,” national press secretary Brian Fallon said.
Since U.S. attorney general Loretta Lynch has taken Comey’s recommendation and said that she would not bring charges against Clinton, the former Secretary of State has effectively been cleared of her main concern in the legal arena. Comey said on Tuesday that Clinton carelessly handled classified information from her private server, but found no evidence that she had criminal intentions.
There is little Republicans can now do that will practically damage her in the short term. For example, Ryan’s request to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper that Clinton be denied access to classified information has little chance of being accepted, as its a tradition that dates back to 1952.
That hasn’t stopped Ryan, who argued in his letter that others who did what Clinton did what be subject to “security or administrative sanctions.”
“There is no legal requirement for you to provide Secretary Clinton with classified information, and it would send the wrong signal to all those charged with safeguarding our nation’s secrets if you choose to provide her access to this information despite the FBI’s findings,” Ryan said in the letter.
The hearing on Thursday was from the start a partisan exchange between Republicans, who impugned Clinton in their testimony and questioned Comey’s judgment for not advising prosecution, and Democrats, who lauded Comey as a fair public servant.
“It seems to a lot of us that if the average Joe, the average American, if they had done what you had laid out in your statement, they’d be in handcuffs,” said Chaffetz. “I think there is a legitimate concern there is a double standard.”
Democrats derided the hearing as political theater.
“When [Republicans] hear a political siren, they run toward it every time,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings. “They have turned political investigations into an art form.”
What did emerge from the hearing is Comey’s belief that Clinton indeed was telling the truth when she said she did it as a matter of “convenience,” as Clinton has said publicly since her use of a private email server became public.
Comey also may have given the Clinton campaign some breathing room over the question of whether Clinton knowingly sent information marked as classified. Clinton has maintained throughout her campaign she did not send information marked as classified; Comey said in his testimony that the emails that Clinton sent and were marked classified were incorrectly labeled—meaning that Clinton may not have known that she was sending classified information from her server.
The hearing, however, will also help Republicans continue to build a case against Clinton for her misuse of classified information on a private server. Comey explained for the first time that Clinton typed an email response from her personal email address into an email chain that was marked “top secret.” He also repeated that Clinton’s attorneys did not read every email before Clinton’s personal emails were deleted, again contradicting a false claim that the Clinton campaign made to TIME.
He also repeated his charge that Clinton acted carelessly in her handling of classified information.
In particular, an exchange between Rep. Trey Gowdy, known for his role on the House Benghazi Committee, could end up as fodder for a GOP attack ad. Gowdy asked Comey whether public statements Clinton has made are true. “Secretary Clinton said there was nothing marked classified,” Gowdy said. Comey said that description was “not true.”
Chaffetz said that he would send Comey a referral to investigate whether Clinton lied under oath to the FBI, though Comey did not ask for one.
Clinton’s aides have maintained that the controversy is over.
But this week suggests it is only entering a new phase.
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