FBI readies crucial interviews of Hillary and her aides

Sources have told the Los Angeles Times that the FBI has alerted attorneys for Hillary Clinton's aides, telling them that the Bureau will be interviewing them about Clinton's private email server and the potential misshandling of classified information.  The sources say the interviews will be conducted in the next few weeks. 

No dates have been set for questioning the advisors, but a federal prosecutor in recent weeks has called their lawyers to alert them that he would soon be doing so, the sources said. Prosecutors also are expected to seek an interview with Clinton herself, though the timing remains unclear.

The interviews by FBI agents and prosecutors will play a significant role in helping them better understand whether Clinton or her aides knowingly or negligently discussed classified government secrets over a non-secure email system when she served as secretary of State.

The meetings also are an indication that much of the investigators' background work – recovering deleted emails, understanding how the server operated and determining whether it was breached – is nearing completion.

“The interviews are critical to understand the volume of information they have accumulated,” said James McJunkin, former head of the FBI's Washington field office.  “They are likely nearing the end of the investigation and the agents need to interview these people to put the information in context. They will then spend time aligning these statements with other information, emails, classified documents, etc., to determine whether there is a prosecutable case."

Many legal experts believe that Clinton faces little risk of being prosecuted for using the private email system to conduct official business when she served as secretary of State, though that decision has raised questions among some about her judgment. They noted that using a private email system was not banned at the time, and others in government had used personal email to transact official business.

The bigger question is whether she or her aides distributed classified material in email systems that fell outside of the department’s secure classified system. But even if prosecutors determine that she did, chances she will be found criminally liable are low. U.S. law makes it a crime for someone to knowingly or willfully retain classified information, handle it in a grossly negligent manner or to pass it to someone not entitled to see it.

Clinton has denied using the email account to send or receive materials marked classified. Though some emails have since been deemed to be too sensitive to release publicly, Clinton's campaign has attributed that to overzealous intelligence officials and "over-classification run amok."

It appears that federal prosecutors are setting a very high bar when it comes to criminal behavior by Hillary Clinton.  The FBI may differ in that assessment, but all they can do is recommend a course of action to prosecutors.  Reading between the lines of this particular story, it looks as though federal prosecutors are inclined to interpret the law about handling classified information far more generously toward Clinton than the FBI.

This doesn't mean that Clinton is off the hook.  Her aides, especially, may be vulnerable, given that they were the ones who sent the emails in the first place.  But prosecutors may publicly be laying the groundwork to give Clinton a pass, or at worst a slap on the wrist.