Former Bill Clinton operative turned Good Morning America co-host George Stephanopoulos on Wednesday breathed a sigh of relief as the FBI recommended no criminal prosecution for Hillary Clinton. To be clear, Stephanopoulos offered tough words, calling the findings “scathing” and “blockbuster” in their content. But he also exhaled, “You hear a lot of Clinton allies suggesting that five months from now on Election Day, the only thing people are going to remember is that she wasn't charged.”
Talking to reporter Pierre Thomas in an earlier segment, the GMA co-host looked for assurance: “This report from the FBI director is just a recommendation to the Justice Department. But, effectively, this is over, right?” Thomas replied, “We expect the career prosecutors will agree with Comey that charges aren't warranted so the likelihood of a criminal case or her e-mails against her is effectively over.”
GMA on Wednesday offered four reports on the developments. Stephanopoulos opened the show with this: “Firestorm this morning over that Hillary Clinton bombshell. The FBI issues a scathing report calling her e-mails extremely careless but recommends no criminal charges as president Obama campaigns for Clinton.”
Later, the journalist, who in 2015 secretly donated $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation, offered another description: “Now to that blockbuster decision from the FBI. After a year-long investigation, Director James Comey decides not to recommend charges against Hillary Clinton.”
Stephanopoulos told analyst Matt Dowd that “politically this was tough stuff from James Comey.” Dowd offered a qualified assessment: “I think she's still favored, as I've said, I think to win the race and still favored after this to win the race but she is damaged in this and that is going to survive until Election Day.”
Analyst Dan Abrams touted the idea that what Clinton did amounted only to “violating norms.”
DAN ABRAMS: Of Hillary Clinton. She broke rules. She violated norms. But that is not necessarily criminal. And then he laid out at the end the criminal standard. We're talking about espionage law here. People are saying, well, gross negligence. That's the Espionage Act and basically what James Comey is saying is you want to prosecute someone under this misdemeanor or this felony of the Espionage Act, you need a level of intentional willful conduct that simply didn't exist here.
As with the evening newscasts, there wasn’t discussion over whether Clinton’s lack of supposed intent met the standard of the written law.
A transcript of the first GMA segment is below:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Firestorm this morning over that Hillary Clinton bombshell. The FBI issues a scathing report calling her e-mails extremely careless but recommends no criminal charges as president Obama campaigns for Clinton.
BARACK OBAMA: Hillary! Hillary!
STEPHANOPOULOS: Now Donald Trump calls the system rigged.
7:04:40 to 7:07:11
2 minutes and 31 seconds
STEPHANOPOULOS: Now to that blockbuster decision from the FBI. After a year-long investigation, Director James Comey decides not to recommend charges against Hillary Clinton. But blasts her for reckless handling of classified information on her private e-mail server. ABC's senior justice correspondent Pierre Thomas brings us the latest from Washington. Good morning, Pierre.
PIERRE THOMAS: Good morning, George. In one of the most dramatic moments of 20 years of covering the FBI, the FBI director took center stage. No one knowing what he had decided with the power to affect the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. The decision about the Clinton e-mail investigation so sensitive and critical to the presidential race, FBI Director James Comey kept the White House and his boss, the Attorney General, in the dark.
JAMES COMEY: They do not know what I'm about to say.
THOMAS: In a dramatic, hastily arranged press conference, Comey announced the results of thousands of hours of FBI investigation.
COMEY: Our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.
THOMAS: But despite that recommendation, the FBI director gave a blistering assessment of Clinton's decision to use private e-mail to conduct government business.
COMEY: There is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive highly classified information.
THOMAS: Former Secretary Clinton has maintained that she never sent or received e-mails that were marked classified. But Tuesday Comey said the investigation found 110 e-mails that contained classified information at the time they were sent and received. And whether they were marked classified when she received them or not, Comey hammered Clinton for leaving government e-mails vulnerable to enemies.
COMEY: Any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton's position or in the position of those with whom she was corresponding about those matters should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation.
THOMAS: Still, Comey said the investigation failed to meet a critical legal standard. According to Comey there was no evidence of —
COMEY: — clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information or vast quantity. Indications of disloyalty to the United States or efforts obstruct justice. We do net see those things here.
THOMAS: Bottom line, Clinton aides may have been careless but Comey said he could not make the case that their behavior was criminal, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Meantime, Pierre, this technically this report from the FBI director is just a recommendation to the Justice Department but effectively this is over, right?
THOMAS: We expect the career prosecutors will agree with Comey that charges aren't warranted so the likelihood of a criminal case or her e-mails against her is effectively over, George.