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Lawmakers On The Hill Grill FBI Director Over Email Investigations


The FBI is supposed to operate free from politics, but members of the House Judiciary Committee mostly ignored that mandate today. Instead they took turns trying to get the FBI director to criticize this year's presidential candidates. NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson has our story.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Republicans used the hearing to second-guess the decision to close an investigation of Hillary Clinton's private email server with no criminal charges. Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte says he doesn't understand why investigators cut the Democratic presidential nominee a break.


BOB GOODLATTE: We as Congress and the American people are troubled how such gross negligence is not punished and why there seems to be a different standard for the politically well-connected, particularly if your name is Clinton.

JOHNSON: Over and over for nearly four hours, Republican lawmakers pressed the FBI chief for explanations. Why did authorities grant immunity to five people involved in the email case? Why didn't the FBI videotape its interview with Hillary Clinton? And - no kidding - did she violate the honor code at her alma mater Wellesley College? Then Lamar Smith of Texas asked FBI director James Comey whether the bureau had really closed the door on the case.


LAMAR SMITH: Would you reopen the Clinton investigation if you discovered new information that was both relevant and substantial?

JAMES COMEY: It's hard for me to answer in the abstract. We would certainly look at any new and substantial information.

JOHNSON: Still, the FBI director left the impression another look at Clinton's email was not going to happen, and Comey defended the FBI's integrity.


COMEY: You can call us wrong, but don't call us weasels. We are not weasels. We are honest people. And we did this in that way. Whether you disagree or agree with the result, this was done the way you would want it to be done.

JOHNSON: Comey said federal employees who acted as carelessly with government secrets as Clinton did would pay some price, though.


COMEY: Mary and Joe at the FBI or some other place, if they did this, would not be prosecuted. They'd be disciplined. They'd be in big trouble in the FBI. If you did this, you would not be prosecuted. That wouldn't be fair.

JOHNSON: Democrats on the Judiciary Committee blasted their counterparts for partisan mudslinging. Then they pushed the FBI leader to announce an investigation of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Trump has openly encouraged hacks of Clinton's emails, and media reports say one of his advisers traveled to Russia to meet with officials there. John Conyers of Michigan...


JOHN CONYERS: Is the FBI investigating the activities of Mr. Trump or any adviser to the Trump campaign with respect to any line of communication between the campaign and the Russian government?

COMEY: I can't say, Sir.

JOHNSON: Comey said the FBI doesn't confirm or deny investigations, but U.S. intelligence agencies are blaming Russian hackers for breaking into the email system at the Democratic National Committee. Aside from the election year back-and-forth, the FBI director fielded questions about a bunch of different topics.

Comey said a federal database counting how many times police use force against citizens will probably be ready in two years. He said a spike in homicides in 15 to 30 big cities is concerning. And he said the FBI has detected signs that bad actors have been poking around in state voter registration databases, but he said the actual voting systems appear to be secure. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.