Early drafts of former FBI Director James Comey's remarks about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server acknowledged that there was evidence she had violated a federal statute prohibiting "gross negligence," but that phrase was deleted, according to Sen. Chuck Grassley.
Grassley, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, has been investigating the formulation of Comey's controversial July 2016 remarks in which he announced that the FBI would not seek criminal charges following its probe into Clinton’s use of a private email server.
The Iowa Republican on Monday said the FBI had recently turned over records relating to then-Director Comey’s statement. The FBI included in those documents what Grassley said appears to be a May 2, 2016 draft of Comey's exoneration statement.
The draft was written two months before Comey’s July 5, 2016 press conference in which he said that he did not believe Clinton had broken any laws even though she had been "extremely careless" in her handling of sensitive, highly classified material.
In the draft in question, Grassley said the Comey statement included the following sentence: "There is evidence to support a conclusion that Secretary Clinton, and others, used the private email server in a manner that was grossly negligent with respect to the handling of classified material."
The same draft included the following sentence: "Similarly, the sheer volume of information that was properly classified as Secret at the time it was discussed on email (that is, excluding the ‘up classified' emails) support an inference that the participants were grossly negligent in their handling of that information."
Despite this reference to "gross negligence," Grassley said the same draft statement goes on to determine she should not be prosecuted for a crime.
Grassley asked for more details about the documents, including copies of the drafts in their original format and all records relating to discussions about why the edits were made, in a letter sent to FBI Director Christopher Wray Monday.
"As you are aware, 18 U.S.C. 793(f) makes the mishandling of classified material through gross negligence a criminal act," Grassley wrote. "Although Director Comey's original version of his statement acknowledged that Secretary Clinton had violated the statute prohibiting gross negligence in the handling of classified information, he nonetheless exonerated her in that early May 2nd draft statement anyway, arguing that this part of the statute should not be enforced."
Grassley said later edits, "on or around about June 10" remove those two sentences and include the following sentence instead: "Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information."
Grassley and Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R., S.C.) said in late August that Comey began drafting a statement rejecting the idea of charging Clinton with a crime over the email issue two months before Clinton was interviewed in the FBI probe. The senators released partial transcripts of interviews the Judiciary Committee conducted with U.S. officials to back up the statement.
President Trump has used the the timeline of Comey's draft statement as evidence that FBI had already decided not to charge Clinton with a crime before their investigation had concluded.
"Wow, looks like James Comey exonerated Hillary Clinton long before the investigation was over … and so much more. A rigged system!" Trump tweeted in late August, after the senators announced their findings.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders one day earlier said the senators' findings showed Trump was right to fire Comey.
Comey, in congressional testimony last September, vigorously denied that he or others in the FBI had made a decision not to charge Clinton for any crime before her July 2 interview.