Washington: The FBI on Tuesday ruled out charging Hillary Clinton after it found no evidence of "intentional misconduct" by the former US Secretary of State in her use of a private email server, a big relief to the Democratic presidential candidate, who said she was "pleased" with the development.
The FBI recommended not to press criminal charges against Clinton, however, the 68-year-old presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party was termed as "extremely careless" by the FBI for sending classified information from her personal email account.
Commenting on the development, Clinton's campaign spokesman Brian Fallon said: "We are pleased that the career officials handling this case have determined that no further action by the (Justice) Department is appropriate... We are glad that this matter is now resolved."
Earlier today, FBI Director James Comey told reporters at a crowded news conference that after an exhaustive apolitical probe, investigators found no evidence of "intentional misconduct" by Clinton.
"Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgement is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case. Prosecutors necessarily weigh a number of factors before deciding whether to bring charges," Comey said.
Seen as a big relief to the former Secretary of State, the announcement came hours before President Barack Obama was scheduled to join Clinton at an election rally in North Carolina.
Before making his announcement, Comey told reporters that he has not coordinated his statement with the Justice Department or any other government agency.
"They do not know what I'm about to say," he said.
"Although the Department of Justice makes final decisions on matters like this, we are expressing to the justices our view that no further charges are appropriate in this case," Comey said.
Acknowledging that there will be intense public debate in the wake of this recommendation as there was through this investigation, he assured that the investigation was done honestly, confidently, and independently.
"No outside influences of any kind was brought to bear," he said. In looking back at our investigations, into the mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts," he said.
"All the cases prosecuted involve some combination of clearly intentional or wilful mishandling of classified information or vast quantities of information exposed in such a way to support an inference of intentional misconduct or indications of disloyalty to the US or an obstruction of justice. But we do not see those things here," Comey said.
Although the FBI did not find clear evidence that Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of the classified information, there is evidence that they were "extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information", Comey said.
"None of these e-mails should have been on any kind of unclassified system. But their presence is especially concerning because all of the emails were housed on unclassified personal servers, not even supported by full-time security staff like those found at agencies and departments of the United States government or even with a commercial email service like Gmail," he added.
"But even if information is not marked classified in an email participants who know, or should know that the subject matter is classified are still obligated to protect it.
"While not the focus of our investigation, we also developed evidence that the security culture of the State Department, in general and with respect to the use of unclassified systems in particular, was generally lacking in the kind of care for classified information that is found elsewhere in the US government," Comey said.
With respect to potential computer intrusion by hostile actors, the FBI did not find direct evidence that Clinton's personal email domain in its various configurations since 2009 was hacked successfully.
But at the same time, the FBI Director assessed that hostile actors gained access to the private commercial email accounts of people with whom Clinton was in regular contact with from her personal account.
"She also used her personal email extensively while outside of the US including sending and receiving work-related emails in the territory of sophisticated adversaries," he said.
The FBI, he said, looked at whether there is evidence that classified information was improperly stored or transmitted on that personal system in violation of a federal statute that makes it a felony to mishandle classified information either intentionally or in a grossly negligent way.