Sunny Hostin

Can Clinton Still Face Charges After FBI Finding?

by Margaret Chadbourn & Geneva Sands for ABC News

Molly Riley/AP Photo

ABC News | July 5, 2016 - The FBI today said that Hillary Clinton and her staff were "extremely careless" in handling classified data on her private email server but stopped short of recommending criminal charges against the former secretary of state.

The discovery of her email practices and the FBI investigation could still have an impact on the presumptive Democratic nominee's campaign.

Why the FBI Is Not Recommending Charges

The FBI spent months looking into whether Clinton intentionally mishandled any classified information and whether her private email server had been compromised.

FBI Director James Comey said his team uncovered more than 100 emails that contained information that was classified. FBI investigators also found thousands of work-related emails that were not included in the 30,000 emails Clinton handed over to the State Department.

But Comey said the FBI didn’t believe those emails were intentionally concealed from investigators.

Bottom line is that this case is over from a legal perspective," said Sunny Hostin, a senior legal analyst at ABC News. "The crime the FBI was investigating is the crime of unauthorized disclosure of classified information, which requires specific intent. Hillary Clinton has repeatedly said she didn't intend to disclose classified information.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch previously said she would accept the FBI recommendations after the probe was completed.

What Happens Next?

Despite the FBI's finding of carelessness by Clinton and her staff, Comey said "no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case."

"Our assessment is that like many email users, Secretary Clinton periodically deleted emails or emails were purged from her system when devices were changed," he said.

He added that there were occasions when her email could have been compromised, although the agency did not discover evidence that her email was successfully hacked.

Clinton's use of a personal email account to conduct official business has been criticized by the State Department's independent watchdog group as a violation of department policy.

There is no indication that a grand jury will hear evidence related to the investigation, and most of Clinton’s work emails have already been made public under the Freedom of Information Act.

Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon responded to today's announcement in a statement, saying, "We are pleased that the career officials handling this case have determined that no further action by the department is appropriate. As the secretary has long said, it was a mistake to use her personal email, and she would not do it again. We are glad that this matter is now resolved."

What's at Stake?

The FBI's probe into Clinton's email use as secretary of state caused a political firestorm in the middle of a heated presidential race.

"While I respect the law enforcement professionals at the FBI, this announcement defies explanation. No one should be above the law," said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., in a statement. "But based upon the director's own statement, it appears damage is being done to the rule of law. Declining to prosecute Secretary Clinton for recklessly mishandling and transmitting national security information will set a terrible precedent."

The case has been subject to intense scrutiny, and Republicans have maintained that her use of a private server endangered sensitive national security material.

After the FBI’s announcement, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump was quick to react, posting to Twitter that Gen. David Petraeus got in "trouble for far less."

While commanding U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Petraeus kept copious notes that contained highly classified information, including code names for operations. He kept those books of those notes improperly secured at his home and later handed them to his mistress for the purpose of writing his biography.

He also lied to investigators about possessing the books and sharing them with his biographer, according to the indictment.

Petraeus eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor federal charge, leading to his resignation as CIA director.

Comey said that intent is one of the main factors in deciding whether to bring charges.

After reviewing similar investigations, Comey said that past prosecuted cases involved some combination of "clearly intentional and willful mishandling" of classified information.

"We do not see those things here," he said.

He pointed out that while the FBI isn’t pursuing criminal charges, people engaged in similar behavior are often subject to security or administrative sanctions.

ABC News' Justin Fishel contributed to this report.

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