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FBI Director James Comey testifies about Clinton email case in front of congressional panel

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Posted at 11:29 AM, Jul 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-07 16:46:30-04

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WASHINGTON — Americans have not heard the last of Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Republicans pumped FBI Director James Comey Thursday for fresh evidence to prolong the politically damaging saga during a Capitol Hill hearing that ignited partisan anger over his decision not to seek charges against the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

GOP lawmakers vented frustration that Clinton escaped criminal action over her use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state while Democrats blasted the hearing as no more than a tax-payer funded witch-hunt.

The four-and-a-half hour hearing, however, appeared to eke out several new seams for Republicans to pursue — including claims Clinton lied to Congress over her email arrangements and allowed people, including her lawyers, who lacked government security clearances to access her servers.

Republicans tried to build an impression that Clinton repeatedly misled the American public over her motives and use of the private server system — something Republicans hope will highlight questions about her trustworthiness.

South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy asked Comey a series of questions rooted in the former secretary of state’s statements on the issue.

“Secretary Clinton said there was nothing marked classified on her e-mails, either sent or received. Was that true?” Gowdy asked.

“That’s not true,” Comey replied.

“Secretary Clinton said, ‘I did not e-mail any classified material to anyone on my e-mail, there is no classified material.’ Was that true?” Gowdy went on.

“There was classified material e-mailed,” Comey replied.

As the politicians played for the cameras, Comey sat unruffled, vigorously defending the FBI probe and explaining why the presumptive Democratic nominee escaped indictment even though he had fired off a withering critique of her handling of classified information on Tuesday.

“I think she was extremely careless. I think she was negligent — that I could establish,” Comey told the House Oversight and Government Reform panel. “What we can’t establish is that she acted with the necessary criminal intent.”

While Comey was the witness, Clinton was clearly the target of the hearing as Republicans seek to keep the controversy over her email setup alive to highlight her most glaring vulnerability heading into November’s election, questions about her character and honesty.

“There is no consequence, director — there is no consequence,” Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz said, demanding to know why Clinton and her aides do not appear to be paying a price over the long-running controversy.

“We are mystified and confused by the fact pattern that you laid out and the conclusions that you reached,” said Chaffetz, adding that “the Average Joe” would have been led off in handcuffs had they done what Clinton did.

Chaffetz made clear that he would soon lodge a request for the FBI to examine whether Clinton lied to Congress when she said he never sent or received anything marked classified. It was not clear that the FBI will accept the request.

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Democrats complained that Republicans were simply embarking on yet another attempt to use taxpayer cash to wound Cinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

“Amazingly, some Republicans who were praising you just days ago for your independence and integrity and honesty instantly turned against you because your recommendation conflicted with the predetermined outcome they wanted,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, the committee’s ranking Democrat.

“In their eyes, you had one job — and one job only — to prosecute Hillary Clinton,” Cummings added. “But you refused, so now you are being summoned here to answer for your alleged transgressions.”

Before the dramatic opening exchanges of the hearing, Comey pulled himself up to his towering height and raised his right arm and swore to tell the truth.

He testified when prodded by Chaffetz that Clinton did not lie to the FBI and explained that the agency did not want to “put people in jail unless we can prove they knew they were doing something they shouldn’t do.”

And, following Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s announcement Wednesday that she would accept the FBI’s findings and close the case, he explained the legal distinction that underpinned his decision not to seek charges against Clinton.

“My conclusion was and remains that no reasonable prosecutor would bring .. the second case in 100 years for gross negligence,” Comey said.

As the drama unfolded in a House hearing room, Republican presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump was elsewhere on Capitol Hill, meeting GOP House and Senate lawmakers.

Republicans are trying other avenues to attack Clinton. House Speaker Paul Ryan asked the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to block access to classified briefings for Clinton for the rest of the campaign.

And Trump on Wednesday renewed his accusations that the result of the FBI’s probe of Clinton was evidence that the governing system was “rigged” in favor of establishment elites.

During Thursday morning’s hearing, Clinton met at her home off near Embassy Row in Northwest Washington with her top adviser Cheryl Mills.

As far as the Clinton campaign is concerned, Thursday’s hearing represents yet another attempt by GOP lawmakers to trip their candidate up, after the House Benghazi Committee concluded last week without directly implicating the former secretary of state in the deaths of four Americans in Libya in 2012.

“House GOP clearly treating FBI Director Comey as a hostile witness #Overreach” said Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon in a tweet.