Angry Republicans in the House of Representatives are set to grill FBI Director James Comey on Thursday over his decision not to recommend criminal charges against presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton over her use of a private email server for government business while she served as secretary of state.
Comey has been called to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, while Attorney General Loretta Lynch is scheduled to go before the House Judiciary Committee next week.
Lynch and Comey met Wednesday, ahead of his testimony. Lynch said she will abide by the FBI's recommendations.
"I received and accepted their unanimous recommendation that the thorough, year-long investigation be closed and that no charges be brought against any individuals within the scope of the investigation," Lynch said in a statement released after she met with the FBI director.
Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan on Wednesday said Clinton may have received preferential treatment from the FBI in its investigation of the former top U.S. diplomat. "It looks it to me," he told reporters when asked.
After Comey announced his decision Tuesday, Ryan said the public should know "how and why" Comey reached that conclusion. "What bothers me about this is the Clintons really are living above the law. They're being held by a different set of standards." Ryan added, "And this is why we're going to have hearings, and this is why I think that Comey should give us all the publicly available information."
Ryan has also questioned whether Clinton should receive classified briefings as a presidential candidate, given Comey's rebuke of the way she handled sensitive material.
‘Surprising and confusing’
Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of the oversight and reform committee, also has questioned the FBI's decision.
"The FBI's recommendation is surprising and confusing," said Chaffetz. "The fact pattern presented by Director Comey makes clear Secretary Clinton violated the law. Individuals who intentionally skirt the law must be held accountable."
The FBI's recommendation Tuesday lifts a major political and legal hurdle for Clinton's candidacy.
In announcing his decision, Comey sharply reprimanded Clinton, who served as the country's top diplomat from 2009 to 2013, and her colleagues at the State Department for what he said was their "extremely careless" handling of classified material they sent to each other via a private email server she established at her home in New York.
Comey, however, said FBI investigators, in an extensive probe of thousands of Clinton's emails, could not find evidence that she "clearly, willfully" sought to violate U.S. laws and that "no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case" against her based on the evidence uncovered in the weeks-long investigation.
The FBI's probe of her use of the private server, instead of a government server with tight security controls, culminated last Saturday with investigators and government prosecutors questioning her for 3-1/2 hours at FBI headquarters in Washington.
Attorney general under fire
Comey's statement came a week after a political uproar over an encounter Clinton's husband, former president Bill Clinton, had with the country's top law enforcement official, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, on an airport tarmac in Phoenix, Arizona. Both Bill Clinton and Lynch said they chatted for half an hour, although not about the email case, but subsequently regretted doing so while Lynch was overseeing the email investigation.
Republicans and Democrats alike criticized Lynch's airport get together with Bill Clinton.
Following Comey's announcement, Hillary Clinton's spokesman said the campaign is pleased the FBI will recommend no charges; but during a rally in North Carolina, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump called the FBI's conclusion "disgraceful."
"I don't know about you, but I've always felt that Hillary Clinton would escape criminal charges for her dangerous and illegal behavior because I always knew, and I always see, and it's so sad, that our system is in fact rigged," Trump said. "It's totally rigged. It's corrupt."
When she first acknowledged use of the private email server more than a year ago, Clinton said she did so for "convenience," so that she would not have to carry two phones — one to handle government business and one to use for personal matters. She quickly acknowledged that mixing official State Department business with personal emails was "a mistake."
Long after she left office in early 2013, Clinton deleted about 30,000 emails she and her lawyers deemed personal and turned over another 30,000 official government-related emails to the State Department, as she was required to do in any event because of government record-keeping regulations. Comey said many more emails were discovered, as well.
Classified emails uncovered
Clinton said she never sent or received emails that were marked as classified documents, but Comey said FBI investigators found that 110 emails in 52 email chains contained classified information at the time they were sent, with eight of the chains having top secret information.
Comey said investigators do not believe that Clinton's emails were hacked by hostile, foreign interests; however, he said "hostile actors" gained access to private commercial interests that Clinton corresponded with and that her extensive use of personal email outside the United States and in the territories of "extensive adversaries" makes it possible they gained access to her personal accounts.
Clinton is not the first high-ranking U.S. official to run into trouble over mishandling classified information.
The State Department found that both of Clinton’s predecessors, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, also had emails containing classified information sent to their personal accounts, in violation of the department’s policy. Powell said the two flagged emails sent to him were not judged to contain confidential information at the time they were sent to him. A representative for Rice said the 10 emails sent to her aide did not contain intelligence information.
David Petraeus resigned as CIA director in 2012 over an extramarital affair with his biographer, journalist Paula Broadwell, whom he provided with classified material. Petraeus pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified material. He was sentenced to two years' probation and fined $100,000.
In 2007, congressional investigators looking into the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys discovered that not all internal White House emails were available. Administration officials had been using email accounts hosted on a server run by a Republican Party political committee, instead of the government accounts. Investigators said that using those servers, which did not archive emails, meant that as many as 5 million emails were lost. No charges were filed in the incident.