Updated: 7/1/ 7:30 p.m. The Justice Department’s decision not to prosecute Hillary Clinton over her handling of classified information while secretary of state ended one investigation. But Republicans are pressing for more scrutiny — beginning this week.
House and Senate Republicans will pursue Clinton on two fronts over the email scandal that has amplified their criticism of her as untrustworthy just as she prepares to accept her party’s nomination for president the week after next in Philadelphia.
Her supporters in Congress call the whole thing an election-year “political witchhunt” and yet another chapter in the never-ending saga of conservative Republican distaste for Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
“I give House Republicans credit,” Maryland Democratic Rep. Elijah E. Cummings said at a hearing Thursday. “They certainly are not shy about what they are doing; they turn political investigations into an art form.”
House Oversight and Government Reform Republicans will ask the FBI to look into whether Clinton — also a former first lady, senator and one time aide to congressional Watergate investigators in the 1970s — lied under oath to Congress about the existence classified emails on her private email account.
She said she had neither received nor sent classified emails when asked about it last October as part of a House investigation into the deadly 2012 terror attack on a diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. That investigation turned up the existence of the server and the resulting controversy, which has energized her detractors since.
In an interview on Friday with CNN, Clinton said it “was a mistake” to use a personal email account for State Department and she regretted it. She also eased her tone on whether she sent or received classified information, saying she “certainly did not believe” that she had. She also said that she relied on experienced subordinates for guidance on classified matters.
FBI Director James B. Comey said last week in an extraordinary statement that his agency’s review of more than 30,000 emails processed on Clinton’s private server housed in the basement of her New York home turned up more than 100 examples of classified material, calling Clinton and the aides she shared the system with “extremely careless” in their conduct. He said three documents had marking indicating they were classified. He was not more specific.
Following up at an Oversight hearing on Thursday, Comey said Clinton didn’t lie to the FBI, and the agency didn’t consider her congressional testimony under oath last fall during its email investigation because it would need a referral from Congress to do so.
“I didn’t know that the FBI needed a permission slip in order to see if somebody lied under oath,” Chaffetz told Fox News after the hearing. Chaffetz and Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., sent a letter Monday asking the U.S. attorney to being an investigation.
But Chaffetz and his allies on the Oversight panel would have a steep legal climb to nail Clinton for perjury, if history is any indication.
A 2007 study by attorney P.J. Meitl in the Quinnipiac Law Review found just six people in 60 years had been successfully prosecuted for lying to Congress under oath. Two of them — former Attorney General John Mitchell and chief of staff H.R. Haldeman — were top figures in the Watergate scandal that drove Richard Nixon from the presidency. Congress rarely requests such an inquiry, the study found.
Exploring ways to punish the opposing party’s presidential candidate is nothing new, but using a legal mechanism is “highly unusual,” said Matt Green, a politics professor at Catholic University.
“There are all kinds of things Congress can do that look assertive without going so far as to asking the executive branch to re-investigate or to take into account testimony,” Green said.
It also might be unreasonable to expect much can be done after this week when Congress heads out of town until September, Green said.
Still, Republicans may use the opportunity to find ways to go after Clinton when they return, when she’ll be on the cusp of the election.
Another unlikely scenario is one posed by Speaker Paul D. Ryan. He asked James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, to deny Clinton access to classified briefings during the campaign. He also suggested the FBI’s findings on her emails should disqualify her from the race.
“It stands to reason that individuals who are ‘extremely careless’ with classified information so be denied further access to that type of information,” Ryan wrote in a letter to Clapper, who coordinates U.S. Intelligence.
Green questioned whether Ryan — his party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee — is feeling election-year pressure from the conservative wing of his party to go after Clinton, whose chief political vulnerability with the public is a perception of her as untrustworthy.
Back in October at the Benghazi hearing, Clinton was answering questions about her private emails posed by Rep. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, when she said “nothing was marked classified at the time I sent or received it.”
South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy, who led the Benghazi Select Committee and like Jordan, is a member of the Oversight panel, echoed the call for the Obama administration to deny Clinton access to top secret information on the campaign trail.
“You can’t stop the president of the United States from accessing classified information but she ain’t there yet,” Gowdy told Fox News.
Presidential nominees typically receive national security briefings.
Although many of Clinton’s closest advisers have left the State Department, it’s possible that some tied to the email saga would lose their security clearance, dashing their chances of joining the Cabinet or serving in a top White House post, if Clinton’s elected, the Associated Press reported.
The State Department will look into that aspect of the controversy next, announcing Friday that it would resume its investigation of the matter now that the FBI had concluded its probe. The administrative review could result in security clearance sanctions.
Moreover, the House Judiciary Committee will hear from Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Tuesday when the email issue is sure to come up.
Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte R, Va., has raised concerns about reports Lynch met with Bill Clinton days before the FBI made its announcement, calling it “uniquely troubling.”
Lynch ultimately made the decision to forego prosecution of Hillary Clinton, accepting the unanimous recommendation from Comey’s team not to pursue criminal charges .
Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon said in a statement that Comey’s testimony on Thursday “clearly knocked down a number of false Republican talking points.”
“The director’s explanations shut the door on any remaining conspiracy theories once and for all,” Fallon said. “While Republicans may try to keep this issue alive, this hearing proved those efforts will only backfire.”