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House Republicans grill FBI director over Clinton email investigation

Under pressure from Republican lawmakers, James Comey repeated that the FBI did not find evidence that Clinton broke the law and that no reasonable prosecutor would pursue a case against her.

by Olivia Becker
Jul 7 2016, 4:45pm

Photo by Shawn Thew/EPA

If Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey thought he might be able to stop talking about Hillary Clinton's emails, Republicans thought differently Thursday.

Comey testified before the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee over the FBI's investigation into Clinton's email investigation and their decision, announced earlier this week, not to prosecute the former Secretary of State for her use of a private server.

Representative Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of the House committee, made it clear someone should be punished for Clinton's email use but struggled to come up with a compelling culprit.

"We're mystified and confused by the fact pattern you laid out and the conclusions that you reached," Chaffetz said at the opening of the hearing. The public should know how the FBI came to their decision, he added, because "there does seem to be two standards, there does seem to be no consequences."

Comey, a trained lawyer and federal investigator, calmly defended the FBI's decision and brushed off the accusations from Republicans that it was motivated by partisanship.

Related: FBI director says Clinton shouldn't face charges over email scandal

"It's just not accurate," Comey said, in response to accusations of bribery in exchange for special treatment for the Clintons. "We try very hard to apply the same standard whether you're rich or poor, white or black, old or young, famous or not known at all."

He also stressed that the investigation was based only on a reading of facts and conducted by people "who didn't give a hoot about politics."

The hearing comes two days after the FBI announced that its two-year long investigation did not find evidence that Clinton broke the law when she used a private email server as Secretary of State. The Department of Justice confirmed on Wednesday they would not be pressing charges against Clinton, per the FBI's recommendations.

The FBI found "great carelessness" in Clinton's handling of sensitive information, Comey said Thursday, reiterating his statement from earlier in the week. He confirmed that not all of Hillary's attorneys had clearance to read classified emails and that he's "reasonably confident some of the [emails] they deleted were classified."

Still, the FBI director reiterated the investigation's findings that Clinton did not break the law and no reasonable prosecutor would pursue a case against her.

But this hasn't stopped Republicans from taking matters into their own hands. On Wednesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan sent a letter to the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, requesting that Clinton's access to high-level intelligence be revoked. Ten Republican senators are asking Secretary of State John Kerry to remove her security clearance.

The Republican effort to excoriate Clinton or the FBI (or both) was on full display during Thursday's committee hearing.

Related: Hillary Clinton kept at least one important email from the State Department

"The FBI does background checks. If Hillary Clinton applied for the job at the FBI, would the FBI give Hillary Clinton a security clearance?" asked Chaffetz.

"I don't want to answer a hypothetical," Comey answered coolly, "The FBI has a robust process in which we adjudicate the suitability of people for employment in the bureau."

Comey repeatedly maintained that there was not enough evidence that Clinton lied to the FBI or broke the law.

Not everyone on the House committee were out for blood though. Democratic lawmakers like Representative Elijah E. Cummings vigorously defended the FBI's decision and criticized Republicans obsession with Clinton's emails as baldly motivated by politics.

In the eyes of Republicans, "you had one job, and one job only: to prosecute Hillary Clinton," Cummings said to Comey.

He added, "I firmly believe that your decision was not based on convenience but on conviction."

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @oliviaLbecker