WASHINGTON – Irate that Hillary Clinton will not face criminal charges over her emails, House Republicans are summoning FBI Director James Comey to Capitol Hill to answer their questions.
Comey will testify Thursday before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the panel’s chairman, Jason Chaffetz of Utah, announced Wednesday. The announcement came a day after Comey rebuked Clinton for “extremely careless” behavior in her handling of classified emails as secretary of state, but declared that “no charges are appropriate” in the case.
“There are a lot of questions that have to be answered. And so we’re going to be asking those questions,” House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters, adding that it looked like Clinton had gotten preferential treatment. “We have seen nothing but stonewalling and dishonesty from Secretary Clinton on this issue, and that means there are a lot more questions that need to be answered.”
Ryan said Clinton should be barred from receiving classified briefings in the course of the campaign. He said he would be looking into whether Congress could take action to enact such a prohibition. And asked whether a special prosecutor should be appointed in the case, Ryan said he wouldn’t “foreclose any option.”
Ryan’s comments reflected widespread anger, even disbelief, among Republicans over Comey’s announcement. Comey delivered a stinging assessment of Clinton’s handling of classified emails, saying she should have known not to have sensitive discussions on an unclassified system and that she sent and received emails that were classified at the time, contrary to her claims. But he followed up by saying no reasonable prosecutor would bring charges in such a case, partly because his investigators found no intentional or willful mishandling of classified information.
“The FBI’s recommendation is surprising and confusing,” Chaffetz said. “The fact pattern presented by Director Comey makes clear Secretary Clinton violated the law. Individuals who intentionally skirt the law must be held accountable.”
Democrats were furious over Chaffetz’s decision to haul Comey before his committee.
“Republican after Republican praised Director Comey’s impeccable record of independence–right up until the moment he issued his conclusion,” said the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland. “The only emergency here is that yet another Republican conspiracy theory is slipping away.”
The House Judiciary Committee also announced that Attorney General Loretta Lynch would appear next week, as Republicans kept up their criticism of her recent brief tarmac meeting with former President Bill Clinton, which Lynch has described as unplanned and purely social.
Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP presidential candidate who looks certain to face Democrat Clinton for president, complained that the system is “rigged,” and that “it was no accident that charges were not recommended against Hillary the exact same day as President Obama campaigns with her for the first time.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, voiced “serious concerns about the integrity of Director Comey’s decision,” arguing that Comey “has rewritten a clearly worded federal criminal statute.”
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., a former attorney general in her state who is in a tough re-election race, complained, “The lives of Americans depend on the protection of classified information, and failing to enforce the law in this case sets a dangerous precedent for our national security.”
The FBI is supposed to be insulated from partisanship, with directors appointed to serve 10-year terms under legislation passed in 1976 following J. Edgar Hoover’s extraordinary 48-year tenure. Comey is a Republican first nominated to a senior Justice Department post by George W. Bush and tapped to lead the FBI in 2013 by President Barack Obama.
Comey has tangled publicly with the Obama administration in the past, particularly over his public speculation that recent crime increases in some cities relate to police officers backing off out of concern for “viral videos” of their actions.
Comey, who served as deputy attorney general in the Bush Justice Department, seemed to anticipate criticism over his decision on Clinton, offering something of a pre-buttal at the end of his statement Tuesday.
“I know there will be intense public debate in the wake of this recommendation, as there was throughout the investigation,” Comey said. “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.”
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