F.B.I. Interviews Hillary Clinton Over Private Email Server

New York Times | 2 July 2016

The F.B.I. interviewed Hillary Clinton on Saturday morning for its investigation into whether she or her aides broke the law by corresponding through a private email server set up for her use as secretary of state, a controversy that has dogged her presidential campaign and provided fodder to her political rivals.

The voluntary interview, which took place over three and a half hours at F.B.I. headquarters in Washington, largely focused on the Justice Department’s central question: Did the actions of Mrs. Clinton or her staff rise to the level of criminal mishandling of classified information?

It could take weeks or longer to reach a decision, but news that Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee, had been questioned in the J. Edgar Hoover Building three weeks before her party’s convention quickly reverberated.

The Republican National Committee called the step “unprecedented,” while Mrs. Clinton’s expected opponent in the race for the White House, Donald J. Trump, wasted little time before weighing in.

“It is impossible for the FBI not to recommend criminal charges against Hillary Clinton,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter on Saturday. “What she did was wrong!”

The interview had been weeks in the making as law enforcement officials and Mrs. Clinton’s team coordinated schedules. Democrats also hoped that holding the interview on a holiday weekend might soften the anticipated storm. Shortly after the meeting, two black S.U.V.s were seen returning to Mrs. Clinton’s house in the capital, but Mrs. Clinton herself stayed out of sight.

In a telephone interview with Chuck Todd on MSNBC after her meeting, Mrs. Clinton said: “I’ve been eager to do it, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to assist the department in bringing its review to a conclusion.”

Accompanying Mrs. Clinton into the meeting were her lawyer David E. Kendall; Cheryl D. Mills and Heather Samuelson, longtime aides who are also lawyers; and two lawyers from Mr. Kendall’s firm, Williams & Connolly, Katherine Turner and Amy Saharia.

Eight officials from the F.B.I. and the Department of Justice conducted the interview, according to a person who was familiar with the substance of the session but declined to be named because the meeting was private. This person characterized the meeting as “civil” and “businesslike.”

Neither the campaign nor the F.B.I. would elaborate.

Although the interview on Saturday was an important step toward closure on the email issue, technical analysis of the material remains to be done and could stretch on for an indeterminate period.

The F.B.I. regularly interviews key figures before concluding an investigation, and such meetings are not an indication that it thinks the person broke the law.

While defense lawyers often advise clients against such interviews, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign has been eager for her to cooperate, lest she give her opponents additional ammunition.

On Saturday, in a statement after the meeting, the Republican National Committee said that Mrs. Clinton “has just taken the unprecedented step of becoming the first major party presidential candidate to be interviewed by the F.B.I. as part of a criminal investigation surrounding her reckless conduct.”

Mrs. Clinton has struggled to get beyond the issue, which came to light last year during a Republican-led congressional investigation into the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. More than 30,000 emails have since been made public.

After spending much of last summer insisting she did not need to apologize for keeping a private server in her home in Chappaqua, N.Y., because the practice was “allowed,” Mrs. Clinton now frequently apologizes for the practice, saying it had been a “mistake.”

The campaign has prioritized assisting the F.B.I., but it declined to cooperate with a State Department inspector general’s audit of Mrs. Clinton’s email practices.

Those findings, delivered to members of Congress in May, undermined some of Mrs. Clinton’s initial statements defending her use of the server.

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