In a highly defensive two-page memo sent to FBI employees Wednesday, FBI Director James Comey stressed the integrity of the bureau's yearlong investigation into whether Hillary Clinton and her aides violated federal laws when they disseminated classified information over her unsecured, private email server.
In the memo, which was first reported by CNN, Comey wrote that he's set to testify before a Congressional oversight committee at the end of the month about the bureau's "great work" on other matters. But, he added, he's sure the Clinton email investigation will likely come up, and the memo [full text at the end of this story] appears to be an attempt to get in front of questions he may face from lawmakers.
"Despite all the chest-beating by people no longer in government, there really wasn't a prosecutable case" against Clinton or her aides, Comey wrote. The hard part, he noted, was deciding whether the FBI should be transparent with the public about why the bureau reached its decision.
"You may be sick of this, but let me leave you with a few words about how I have been describing the email investigation in private to our former employees as I meet them around the country," he wrote. "I explain to them that there are two aspects to this: (1) our judgment about the facts and prosecutive merit; and (2) how we decided to talk about that judgment. I tell them that the difficult decision was actually the second part, not the first. At the end of the day, the case itself was not a cliff-hanger."
The memo followed the public release last Friday afternoon of FBI investigative documents concerning Clinton's use of a private email server: a 47-page memo summarizing the investigation, and 11 pages of notes about the bureau's nearly five-hour interview with the former Secretary of State last July.
Comey said he struggled with whether to release the material on a Friday before a holiday weekend. (Friday afternoons are when government agencies frequently dump damaging information in order to ensure it receives minimal media coverage.)
"I almost ordered the material held until Tuesday because I knew we would take all kinds of grief for releasing it before a holiday weekend," he wrote, "but my judgment was that we had promised transparency and it would be game-playing to withhold it from the public just to avoid folks saying stuff about us. We don't play games. So we released it Friday."
VICE News routinely files FOIA lawsuits against the FBI for violating the law and failing to live up to its transparency obligations — including one ongoing case in which we asked for a wide range of documents the FBI recovered from Clinton's private email server that the FBI has fought to avoid releasing. Comey's assertions about the existence of transparency and the lack of game playing are ludicrous.
The revelations laid bare in the FBI documents, that tens of thousands of Clinton's emails were deleted after she received a preservation order and after the New York Times revealed that she exclusively used private email to conduct official business during her tenure at the State Department, led to harsh criticism by Republicans and critics of the Democratic presidential candidate. They alleged that the FBI's decision not to recommend that the Justice Department pursue a criminal prosecution was politically motivated.
Comey said in his memo to FBI staff that anyone making such suggestions "either don't know us or they are full of baloney (and maybe some of both)."
"I have no patience for suggestions that we conducted ourselves as anything but what we are — honest, competent, and independent," he wrote.
As VICE News first reported in July, the FBI's yearlong probe stemmed from a so-called "Section 811" referral from the Intelligence Community's Inspector General (ICIG). The ICIG determined that classified, national security information in Clinton's emails may have been "compromised" and shared with a "foreign power or an agent of a foreign power."
The FBI's investigative documents also revealed that Clinton, when confronted with emails disseminated with at least three top aides containing classified information about top-secret future drone strikes, among other subjects, was not concerned about secrecy and in some instances did not believe the content was classified.
Follow Jason Leopold on Twitter: @JasonLeopold