Return to Transcripts main page

WOLF

FBI Not Recommending Charges Against Clinton. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired July 5, 2016 - 13:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[13:00:05] ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Saying the announcement "defies explanation." The speaker's words. Joe Johns, thank you for that.

I'm going to turn things over to our mutual colleague Wolf Blitzer who continues our coverage.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

We start with breaking news. The FBI's assessment that there should be no charges, no criminal charges against Hillary Clinton in the investigation into her use of a private e-mail server during her four years as secretary of state. But while that would seem like very good news for the Clinton campaign, the FBI Director James Comey did not go easy on her at all when he laid out the case to the American people.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing and handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in the handling of very sensitive highly classified information. We also developed evidence that the security culture of the State Department, in general and in with respect to the use of unclassified systems in particular, was generally lacking in the kind of care for classified information that's found elsewhere in the U.S. government.

We assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton's personal e-mail account. As a result, although the Department of Justice makes final decisions on matters like this, we are expressing to justice our view that no charges are appropriate in this case.

I know there will be intense public debate in the wake of this recommendation as there was throughout the investigation. What I can assure the American people is that this investigation was done honestly, confidently and independently, no outside influence of any kind was brought to bear.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: At the same Comey was making this dramatic announcement, Hillary Clinton was on stage during an education event here Washington. She made no mentioned to the FBI wrapping up their investigation.

But now her campaign has just issued this statement, very brief. "We are pleased that career officials handling this case have determined that no further action by the department is appropriate. As the Secretary has long said, it was a mistake to use her personal e-mail and she would not do it again. We are glad that this matter, that statement concludes is now resolved."

Donald Trump reacted on Twitter very quickly. He tweeted this: "FBI director said Crooked Hillary compromised our national security. No charges. Wow#RiggedSystem." And this "The system is rigged. General Petraeus got in trouble for far less, very, very unfair. As usual, bad judgment."

Right now, Hillary Clinton is preparing to leave Washington for North Carolina. Moments ago, we saw her board Air Force one at joint base Andrews right outside of the nation's capital in Maryland. Clinton and President Obama will fly there together on his plane. This will be the president's first joint campaign appearance with Hillary Clinton that takes place this afternoon.

Let's bring in our CNN Justice correspondent Evan Perez who has been reporting on all of this along with our CNN Political Director David Chalian, Washington Bureau Chief for the Daily Beast, Jackie Kucinich and CNN Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

All right, so Evan, 110 of the e-mails they found, according to the FBI director, were classified, did contained classified information, whether confidential, top secret special access programs. That's a pretty damning indictment.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. We've known for a time that agencies that own those pieces of classified information had gone to the state department and said this information is classified.

And among the 110, we really should focus on seven e-mail chains that Comey talked about. These are e-mail chains in which Hillary Clinton is responding and is participating conversations with her aides and people who work for her and those that -- those e-mail chains that contain special access programs, highly classified information.

So what Comey is saying is she should have known even if she's saying that she did not knowingly send or received classified information, this is what she's been saying on the campaign trail recently. She should have known because of the nature of this information. She should have known that this is not the appropriate place to be having these types of discussion.

BLITZER: And she has made the point not for months and months that none of the information on those e-mails was marked classified with either sent or received. PEREZ: And that doesn't matter.

BLITZER: But he says some of those e-mails were in fact marked classified. Because it's a only a very small number of the e-mail here that containing classified information bore marking that indicated the President's of classified information.

[13:05:04] But then he says but even if information is not marked classified in an e-mail, participants who know or should know that the subject matter is classified are still obligated to protect.

PEREZ: That's exactly right. This information is classified no matter whether or not it says classified at the top of the e-mail. This is information given her level the place where she serves in the government, or she served in the government at the time.

She should have known that this is not the place for it. And so, again, it will probably cause her to have to address that big part of her explanation of what occurred here.

Let me just step back a little bit real quick. What happened today is without precedent. This is not something that the FBI does. They don't go out and say publicly what their recommendation is to the justice department. This just reflects the unusual nature of this case, obviously, and the fact that you have a sitting or the leading contender for the Democratic nomination who had to be interviewed by the FBI on Saturday this past weekend.

This is how unusual this case is. And they thought it was necessary to put it out there to make sure that people knew what was going on.

BLITZER: Very strong statement from Paul Ryan, David, the Speaker of the House, the top Republican in Congress.

Let me read it to you and then we'll assess. "While I respect the law professionals at the FBI, this announcement defies explanation. No one should be above the law. But based upon the director's own statement, it appears damage is being done to the rule of law. Declining to prosecute Secretary Clinton for recklessly mishandling and transmitting national security information will set a terrible precedent. The findings of this investigation also make clear that clear that Secretary Clinton misled the American people when she was confronted with her criminal actions. While we need more information about how the bureau came to this recommendation, the American people will reject this troubling pattern of dishonesty and poor judgment."

That's a pretty tough statement from the Speaker of the House.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It is a tough statement and I think the subject in that statement is, Donald Trump, this is how you're going to prosecute the argument against Hillary Clinton going forward. Don't get distracted by anything of your own doing. This is where the message should be. Paul Ryan was clear about that.

You know, obviously this has political rhetoric in and he calls it criminal actions. And indeed the whole point of what Jim Comey came out to say today, is that there's not evidence here that should suggest any prosecutor should take this case up in any way.

In fact, the recommendation that he's making the department is that charges not be brought. So obviously Paul Ryan is playing a bit of politics here with this, but I do think that you have to separate the legal from the political here, Wolf. Hillary Clinton had a big win today. In the sense that this was a major cloud hanging over her head heading into her convention and trying to launch the fall campaign with sort of rocket boosters the way she's trying to do, travel with the President, what have you, this is removing a big threat of the criminal charge.

But presidential elections are not found in courtrooms usually other than 2000. But they are fought in the political arena and the damnation of her judgment, carelessness is not a word that any presidential candidate wants associated with them.

So, yes, she is running against a very flawed candidate and perhaps there were someone else that she was running against, this would have a different political calculus and yes she got a win because a big threat was taken away. But there were some words that came out of Jim Comey's mouth today that could be seen in an ad for Republicans this fall.

BLITZER: And the fact that, you know, he made it clear that hostile political powers could have access to that security that was limited security of those, not just one server. But she had a series of private servers that she used which were clearly hackable, if you will if that's a word, even that kind of statement by the FBI director going and saying what was the Secretary of State thinking, that's going to have political ramifications.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: Yeah, we should get used to the words extremely careless because that's going to be said again and again and again by Republican candidates as well as Donald Trump.

But perhaps one of the most devastating parts of this, is that reinforce two narratives at the Clinton campaign is working very hard to try to refute that she's untrustworthy and that, you know, one of the things that they've been trying to work on. And also that she played by a different set of rules than other people.

Comey basically came out and said that other people faced with this level of issues might have some legal ramifications but he said that's not going to happen. So those are two really negative narratives that they weren't able and back out for the Clinton campaign.

BLITZER: In the statement from the Clinton campaign, Jeffrey Toobin they concluded we are glad that this matter is now resolved. Technically, it's not necessarily completely resolved, although it's like likely to be resolved because this is a recommendation that goes to career prosecutors at the Justice Department that they have to make the final decision, right?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: That's true -- sorry, I've never heard of a situation where given a clear recommendation from the FBI not to file charges, the U.S. attorney or the federal prosecutors involved overruled that and wound up filing charges.

[13:10:14] So you're right, as a technical legal matter, the Justice Department lawyers have the last word. But I can't envision any situation where a prosecution comes about now.

BLITZER: Have you ever seen anything like this before?

TOOBIN: Well, this is really unusual. Because when the FBI does an investigation, they either put up or shut up. They either say we're going to court, we're prosecuting, or they simply close the investigation. In certain rare situations there are announcements from prosecutors or the FBI that no charges will be brought.

For example, Preet Bharara at the U.S. attorney here in New York. He did an investigation of Governor Cuomo in connection with the shutting down of a different investigation. He announced publicly that there would be no charges filed.

However, what he did not do and what Jim Comey did do today was outline in great detail the nature of the investigation, what was done, what the evidence was and why they weren't going to file charges.

Frankly, I think as someone who was interested in transparency in government, people should be pleased that Director Comey, for better or worse, explained why he did. Now people may disagree. Paul Ryan obviously disagrees with the conclusion but I think everyone is better off because the Director Comey said, look, this is what I did and this is why I did it.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Evan, because, you know, Washington the city of leaks, as we all know. This is the decision by the FBI director. But there is the possibility, as you know, you covered the FBI, you covered the Justice Department. There could be a minority of FBI agents who disagree with this final conclusion. Here's the question. Are we going to get that dissenting view?

PEREZ: We may hear some of that leak out, obviously there are people at the FBI and at Justice Department who thought that this was severe enough that it merited some very, very tough treatment and so we might hear about that. But clearly, you know, and the other unusual thing about today is usually the FBI is pushing for prosecution and the Justice Department is on the other side of the street saying, no, no, no wait a minute, we don't have enough evidence. So that's also unusual.

I suspect, though, that the way how this was handled, this was handled out of head quarters Jim Comey was overseeing this investigation personally. Everyday he was getting an update that there was a very small subset of people who knew exactly everything what was being done.

BLITZER: And he is highly respected give his long career as U.S. attorney, Deputy Attorney General of the United States. So, this is a man who comes with a lot of credibility. Standby the FBI called Hillary Clinton and her state department staff extremely careless. Those were the words of the FBI director. Extremely careless so there's certainly cast a shadow over what was supposed to be a grand party later today, that be President Obama hitting t campaign trail for the first time with Hillary Clinton. Just a few moments ago, she boarded Air Force one at joint base Andrews in Maryland outside of Washington, D.C., we're waiting for the President to arrive.

He's expected to arrive on Marine One shortly and go aboard Air Force One to fly to Charlotte, North Carolina, for this joint campaign event.

Let's go to our White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski. She's on the ground in Charlotte for us. Hillary and President Obama they're going to have plenty of time to talk about this during the flight on Air Force One. But does this complicate their joint appearance for the President and the former Secretary?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's tough to imagine a more dramatic course of events for the President's first day out on the campaign trail, something the campaign has been waiting for, something that the White House has been asked about for months. You might even say it's perfect timing for the White House.

First, now the question mark removed, to have the possibility of criminal charges against the former Secretary of State essentially removed, I mean can you imagine them standing on that stage side by side if that were the case and how they would have to address this.

But what the FBI said was not exactly good either. So I think what the President can do now, we'll see how Hillary Clinton chooses to address this. We saw a statement. Remember, she had an appearance in D.C. before boarding Air Force One with the President.

She did not mention it. But now they will be on the stage together and the President can allow her to address it or make reference to it however she would like and the president can kind of remain on a different level. He can focus on her qualification, on her record, on her values and leave it at that.

The White House though is going to have to weigh in on this. They haven't wanted to jump in just yet and make at statement or have a reaction to it. They wanted to give it a little time, wait for the two of them to be on the plane together.

[13:15:00] And then we expect the Press Secretary to meet with reporters really any minute now, Wolf. But the White House has focused on the past is that. She had said it was a mistake, that she's reiterated that, that she's moved on from there. And again, they can focus on what the FBI reiterated today, that there was no evidence of intent in the mishandling of information.

Wolf.

BLITZER: Just the -- but there was a lot of other evidence that it should never, ever have happened.

All right, Michelle, stand by. We're going to get to you.

Evan, very quickly, because it was sort of powerful when I heard the FBI director say that even commercial e-mail accounts like g-mail, for example, have a higher level of security than what Hillary Clinton's private e-mail server was providing for her as four years as secretary of state and he was directly concerned about foreign powers, if you will, trying to hack into what she was having (ph).

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right, that was one of the big, most important focuses for the FBI investigation, which is to find out if there's any proof of anybody actually hacking into it, stealing some of this classified information, especially spy agencies from Russia and China that are the most active in this space. He said that there was no indication, there was no proof of that. However, these guys are so good that they wouldn't leave the trails behind. We've reported that before, Wolf. And what he's saying is simply that it is possible that these spy agencies, foreign spy agencies, did hack in and left no trail and we would not know. Again, previous secretaries of state have used private e-mail. Colin Powell used a g-mail account, a Yahoo! account. What Hillary Clinton did is without precedent. She set up her own private server and apparently was very rudimentary. No security system really that even compares to what classified or what commercial services use.

BLITZER: So -- but you came away with the same impression I did, that if the North Koreans or the Chinese or the Russians or some foreign power hostile to the United States --

PEREZ: We wouldn't even know. We wouldn't even know that they were in there (ph).

BLITZER: They -- they wouldn't -- we wouldn't know if they did. But he left the impression that they probably did. They probably had access and it was probably easier to hack into her e-mail account than it would have been to hack into a private g-mail account.

PEREZ: Right. Exactly. And he's also saying that, you know, the fact that there were breaches of some of the people she corresponded with indicates that there were -- that at least her e-mail address and her private server was known to some of those foreign powers. So, again, the highly likely possibility that someone did get in there is still present there.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by because there's more to assess. We're following the breaking news. We're going to have much more on the FBI's findings on Hillary Clinton's e-mail server. We'll talk about whether this will have an impact on her race against Donald Trump. Stand by.

Also, take a look at this, we've got live pictures from Joint Base Andrews outside of Washington, D.C. That's Air Force One. Hillary Clinton is already on board. The president getting ready to land at Andrews momentarily aboard Marine One. We'll have live coverage for you. Lots going on. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:21:46] BLITZER: All right, these are live pictures from Joint Base Andrews, outside of Washington, D.C. Hillary Clinton has already boarded Air Force One. The president, we're told he's just left the White House aboard Marine One, heading over to Joint Base Andrews. He'll be landing at the -- at Andrews momentarily. He'll board those stairs and he'll see Hillary Clinton on that flight. A very short flight from here in Washington to Charlotte, North Carolina. They'll be on the stage there jointly for the first time in this campaign two hours or so from now.

Much of the talk surrounding the event now about the FBI's very dramatic recommendation that no charges should be filed against Hillary Clinton in connection with her private e-mail server. As we await the arrival of the president at Andrews, let's bring back our CNN political director, David Chalian, and Jackie Kucinich, the Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast."

So this bottom line, no charges being filed, David, but at the same time very damning information contained by James Comey against Hillary Clinton's decision to use that private e-mail server, or multiple servers, as we now know to be the case. It's going to have an enormous political fallout, I assume, in the weeks and months to come, all the way until November.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It will probably have some. Listen, remember, the universe of persuadable voters, or undecided voters that are really persuadable, it's a pretty small universe of voters. So if you are one of those voters, you heard two things today. You heard Hillary Clinton is not being charged with any criminal wrongdoing or likely not to be chard if the department accepts the FBI recommendations, and you heard that she and her team were extremely careless in the way that this was set up. So if you haven't already fallen into one camp that says she should clearly be in jail or the other camp that says this is pure partisan targeting of her and has no bearing whatsoever and this investigation shouldn't happen, if you're not in one of those camps, you heard a couple of pieces of information today that will likely have some impact in how you think about her going forward as you make your decision.

BLITZER: But the Republicans and Donald Trump, they're not going to let up between now and November on this specific issue. So when I say it could have enormous impact, they will try to make sure it does have an impact.

CHALIAN: Without a doubt. They will -- this will come up time and time again. As Jackie said earlier, the words "extremely careless," that is going to appear everywhere. There's no doubt about that.

The Clinton campaign, you have to remember from their point of view inside Brooklyn, right now we're living a day of relief. They realize that Jim Comey had some very troubling words for them that they're going to have to deal with, but they have to first get through the relief of the fact that there were no criminal charges, which Hillary Clinton predicted all along that there would not be. She was quite confident of that. I do think that there are going to be some lingering questions here. And even though she's already apologized for setting up the private e-mail system and called it a mistake, said she wouldn't -- I think she is likely going to have to continue to express that in light of Jim Comey saying, there's a -- there's basically an issue of judgment here, of carelessness. That's judgment.

BANFIELD: Right.

CHALIAN: And I think raising that at the same time that your political opponents are making a judgment argument against you is going to require her to probably -- she can't just turn her back and say, this is done. There's clearly some more work for her to do here.

BLITZER: You see Marine One about to land at Andrews -- Joint Base Andrews, on the way from the South Lawn of the White House. The president of the United States aboard Marine One right now. He'll be getting aboard Air Force One. Hillary Clinton's already on the plane to fly down to Charlotte.

[13:25:11] The timing of all of this, you know, you can't make this kind of stuff up. It's pretty unusual, you know, the former president meets with the attorney general the other day. It cause as big stir. Then Hillary Clinton spends three and a half hours Saturday morning answering questions during an interview with the FBI that all of a sudden today, the day after July 4th, the FBI director comes out, surprises us, and even surprises officials at the Justice Department. He said there was no coordination on the timing, and announces no charges are being filed.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "THE DAILY BEAST": You know, oh to be a fly on the wall in Air Force One today to hear what the conversation is between not only Hillary and the president, but some of her advisers that are there. Someone like Jake Sullivan and Huma Abedin, who have both served with her at the State Department.

But, yes, this was supposed to be a giant party. Obama was going to go speak and really rally the base. That hasn't been able to come out for maybe some other candidates around Hillary Clinton and now they do have this pall that sort of has set over. I mean and David is absolutely right, Hillary Clinton's campaign is very happy that they're not being charged with anything. That said, this is an issue that's going to keep coming back and is going to hang over this event today.

BLITZER: So what you're saying is, it could have been a whole lot worse if he had made a different decision that may have ended her --

CHALIAN: Exactly.

BLITZER: That may have ended her presidential campaign right now if he had come out and said, we're recommending charges be filed. That would have, presumably, ended the whole -- at least she can go forward now. She has this hovering over her, the Republicans, Donald Trump's campaign will make a big issue of it. We'll see how she handles it.

Do you think on her speech that's coming up in about an hour and a half or so in Charlotte, she's actually going to address this issue? We saw that brief statement released by her campaign.

CHALIAN: I would be shocked if she addresses this on the stage with the president in North Carolina. I think she wants to do her best today to turn her page -- turn the page from this morning and really celebrate this moment with the president. You've got to remember here what is happening. The president is at some of his highest approval ratings of his second term. They're going to a state that he won in 2008 for the first time a Democrat did that since I think Jimmy Carter in 1976. He'd slipped away from them in 2012. It's all about building the Obama coalition. And so for him to get up there and the campaign -- the Clinton campaign just released a brand-new video talking -- having Barack Obama talk about Hillary Clinton, praising her for joining that team of rivals content (ph). That it takes somebody with high character to drop the competition of their campaign and actually come and be a loyal soldier for him. And I think you're going to hear from him today, this journey that he took from Clinton foe to Clinton cheerleader. And so I don't think she wants to cloud any of that, Wolf, with talk of Jim Comey's announcement today.

BLITZER: Yes, I'm sure, unless she does an interview with someone. With -- that journalist is obviously going to ask, get her reaction, go through the specific points. I suspect we're not going to necessarily be hearing from her as an interview, although she might decide this is -- get it over with, just do it and move on. What do you think?

KUCINICH: We haven't seen that in the past. I mean Hillary Clinton, they are -- they haven't really done a lot of proactive, sort of beating that back sort of things in the past. I mean it's 2016. Anything is possible. But I think David's right, I think this is going to be a celebration about why Obama thinks Hillary Clinton is the right person to continue his legacy, because that's what this is about as well. It's about, you know, continuing his mission as the head of the Democratic Party. And I think you're going to hear a lot about -- a lot about that as well at this rally.

BLITZER: This is Marine One. The president of the United States is aboard Marine One right now. It has just landed at Joint Base Andrews, outside of Washington, D.C. The president will get off of Marine One, make that short little walk over to Air Force One, board Air Force One for the flight to Charlotte, North Carolina, for his first joint appearance with Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

Do we know the format of the event, David, in Charlotte? I assume the president will speak, Hillary Clinton will speak second. Is that your understanding?

CHALIAN: I haven't seen who will introduce whom and who will speak first or second, that format, but it is -- it would be, I think, customary in this scenario where Hillary Clinton may want to introduce the president of the United States and have him say a few words and we'll see if he just takes the stage without that.

The other thing I want to note here, you've got to remember, these are the two biggest figures in the Democratic Party for the better part of the last decade.

BLITZER: The president is now walking over to Air Force One. He'll board that Air Force One, make the very short flight.

But, go ahead. Finish your thoughts.

CHALIAN: Well, and he's going to get on that plane where Hillary Clinton is awaiting him right now and she's already on board. These two people have not campaigned in a political context on the campaign trail since she last did nearly eight years ago for him. And so we saw that briefly between July and November of 2008. But it will be interesting to see them together in this context. Most of what we saw, obviously, in the first term was a much more official capacity as president and secretary of state.

[13:29:57] BLITZER: And for Hillary Clinton, Jackie, to be elected president of the United States -- there's the president boarding Air Force One right now with a traditional wave -- she really needs to recreate as much of that Obama coalition as possible and get that enthusiasm out there.