The FBI’s investigation into Democratic frontrunner and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email server is about to enter its final phase. The FBI is in the process of scheduling interviews for Clinton’s closest aides and Clinton according to a Los Angeles Times report from Sunday, March 27, 2016. Meanwhile, the Washington Post is reporting the case is so important to the FBI that they have 147 agents working on the case hoping to wrap their probe before the general election.
According to the Los Angeles Times story, the FBI is in the process of arranging interviews for Clinton close aides during her tenure at the State Department; they include Huma Abedin, Jake Sullivan, Cheryl Mills and Philippe Reines. Prosecutors will be conducting the interviews, but none has yet to be scheduled. The interviews will include not only Clinton’s former aides but also advisors. A federal prosecutor has notified the advisors of the intended interviews. The FBI is also planning to interview Clinton although neither has it been scheduled.
The interviews are the next step and necessary for the FBI to decide if they want to prosecute the case and who they will charge and indict in the case. The FBI’s interview phase is to find out whether her aides “knowingly or negligently discussed classified government secrets over a non-secure email system when she served as secretary of State.”
David Kendall, Clinton’s lawyer, did not to respond about the future interview. Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon issued a statement about the story. Fallon said, Clinton “first offered last August to meet and answer any questions they might have. She would welcome the opportunity to help them complete their work.”
James McJunkin, the former head of the FBI’s Washington field office told the media, “The interviews are critical to understand the volume of information that they have accumulated.” McJunkin says the interview stage means the FBI “are likely nearing the end of the investigation and the agents need to interview these people to put the information in context. They will then spend time aligning these statements with other information, emails, classified documents, etc., to determine whether there is a prosecutable case.”
To accelerate the investigation the FBI has 147 agents working the case, and “running down leads.” A lawmaker told the Washington Post after FBI Director James Comey briefed him. The FBI has such a large number of agents working to be able to conclude the investigation before the general election campaign period. The FBI does not want it too close to the election; this is with the presumption that Clinton would be the Democratic nominee.
Comey has admitted to lawmakers he is working personally on the case and investing all the resources necessary. Comey clarified, “What I can assure you is that I am very close personally to that investigation to ensure that we have the resources we need, including people and technology, and that it’s done the way the FBI tries to do all of it’s work: independently, competently and promptly.”
FBI records official David Hardy told a federal court on Friday, March 25 in a written declaration that the FBI is conducting an “active, ongoing investigation” into Clinton’s email server but did not and is not communicating with either Clinton, her representatives or the State Department on the inquiry. The FBI was responding to a request for records of the investigation, which is a part of an FOIA Freedom of Information Act lawsuit led by Vice News reporter Jason Leopold. Leopold filed a lawsuit that successfully compelled the State Department to release to the public all of Clinton’s emails from her tenure.
Hardy clarified that even though there is some correspondence with the State Department, it cannot be made public. Hardy explained, “Any records responsive [to that request] still cannot be disclosed without adversely affecting the pending investigation.” Leopold also sought any email copy or files the FBI may have retrieved from Clinton’s erased server or her thumb drive, which her attorney Kendall handed over in July to Justice Department. Hardy responded that information cannot be made public because they “are potential evidence in the FBI’s investigation or may provide leads to or context for potential evidence.”
Hardy said in his declaration; the FBI could not publicly say much about the ongoing investigation and the agency would provide U.S. District Court Judge Randolph Moss a classified statement on the investigation. Publicly Hardy admitted except for the fact that the agency admits to the investigation into Clinton’s private server there is very little information that can be made public about the ongoing investigation.
In his statement, Hardy wrote, “The investigation at issue here is being conducted under the FBI’s assigned law enforcement authorities and in accordance therewith. FBI Director James Comey stated before the House Judiciary Committee on October 22, 2015, that the FBI received and ‘is working on a referral [from] Inspectors General in connection with former Secretary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server.”
Hardy concluded, “Beyond Director Comey’s acknowledgment of the security referral from the Inspectors General of the Intelligence Community and the Department of State, the FBI has not and cannot publicly acknowledged the specific focus, scope, or potential targets of any such investigation without adversely affecting the investigation.”
The FBI just publicly admitted in February to conducting the investigation that began last July. On Feb. 8, 2016, a letter dated Feb. 2 was released publicly from the FBI’s general counsel James Baker notified the State Department of their probe. The State Department filed it in court as part of the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against their department by conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch. The letter confirmed the investigation’s ongoing status but did not “divulge details” claiming it would undermine the inquiry. The FBI did not reveal if the probe will lead to a criminal case or is just a “security review.”
The LA Times reports that that “legal experts” do not believe Clinton will be prosecuted, for the private server but “raised questions” “about her judgment.” The State Department and the government did not “ban” private “email system.” Others that have used private email accounts while on the job including Secretary of State John Kerry when he was Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relation Committee and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, both deal with classified foreign policy related information.
As the LA Times points “The bigger question is whether she or her aides distributed classified material in email systems that fell outside of the department’s secure classified system.” Although after the State Department’s review over 1800 of Clinton’s emails have been retroactively marked classified, the fact they initially did not help Clinton’s case. Still in her position and that of her aides they have to believe any information on them could be classified and sensitive to national security.
The FBI’s investigation will last through the primary season as Clinton still faces a threat for the nomination from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who is determined to beat Clinton and has the momentum to do so. Clinton has been lucky, Sanders refuses to make her private server a campaign issue, but she clinches the nomination, the Republican nominee will attack her on it. Through the invisible and primary campaign, Republicans have said: “she should be indicted or disqualified from running for the nation’s top office.”
Democratic pollster Mark Mellman commented on the possible effects on Clinton’s campaign, “This is clearly disruptive to the campaign. It will take her off message and coverage about important aides being questioned is not coverage you’d like to have. However, this issue is largely dismissed by Democratic primary voters and baked into the cake for the general electorate.”