Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton relied on the judgments of her staff and others not to illegally send emails containing classified information to her private email server, and told FBI investigators she was unclear about a classification marking on official government documents.
The revelation came Friday as the FBI, in a rare step, published scores of pages summarizing interviews with Clinton and her top aides from the FBI's recently closed criminal investigation into her use of a private email server in the basement her Chappaqua, New York, home.
Clinton told the FBI she never sought or asked permission to use a private server or email address during her tenure as the nation's top diplomat, which violated federal records keeping policies.
Clinton has repeatedly said her use of private email was allowed. But over 3 ½ hours in an interview in July, she told FBI investigators she "did not explicitly request permission to use a private server or email address," the FBI wrote. They said no one at the State Department raised concerns during her tenure, and that Clinton said everyone with whom she exchanged emails knew she was using a private email address.
The documents also include technical details about how the private server was set up. It is the first disclosure of details provided by Bryan Pagliano, the technology staffer who set up and maintained Clinton's IT infrastructure. Pagliano secured an immunity agreement from the Justice Department after previously refusing to testify before Congress, invoking his constitutional right against self-incrimination.
Large portions of the FBI documents were censored. The FBI cited exemptions protecting national security and investigative techniques. Previous government reviews of the 55,000 pages of emails Clinton returned to the State Department found that about 110 contained classified information.
Friday's release of documents involving the Democratic presidential nominee was a highly unusual step, but one that reflects extraordinary public interest in the investigation into Clinton's server. Republicans have used the email issue, as well as the family's charitable foundation, to argue that Clinton is not trustworthy and should not be elected.
The FBI's investigation focused on whether Clinton sent or received classified information using the private server, which was not authorized for such messages. Clinton told the FBI she relied on others with knowledge about handling classified files not to send her emails inappropriately.
"She had no reason to doubt the judgment of the people working for her on the 'front lines,'" the FBI wrote about one email.
Clinton was also asked about a 2011 email that caught the attention of investigators in which she directed one of her advisers, Jake Sullivan, to transmit a set of talking points and turn it "into nonpaper w/no identifying heading and send nonsecure."
Clinton told the FBI that she believed she was asking Sullivan "to remove the State Department letterhead and provide unclassified talking points" and that she had no intention of removing classification markings.
In her interview, Clinton said she was unfamiliar the meaning of the letter "c'' next to a paragraph and speculated that it might be "referencing paragraphs marked in alphabetical order." That particular email had been marked as "confidential," the lowest level of classification. Clinton said she did not pay attention to the classified level "and took all classified information seriously," according to the FBI notes.
After a yearlong investigation, the FBI recommended against prosecution in July, and the Justice Department then closed the case.
FBI Director James Comey said that while Clinton and her aides had been "extremely careless," there was no evidence they intentionally mishandled classified information.
Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan issued a statement saying the documents show Clinton's "reckless and downright dangerous handling of classified information."
"They also cast further doubt on the Justice Department's decision to avoid prosecuting what is a clear violation of the law," Ryan said. "This is exactly why I have called for her to be denied access to classified information."
The FBI director said the government found no direct evidence that Clinton's private server was hacked but said foreign government hackers were so sophisticated — and the server would be such a high-value target — that it was unlikely they would leave evidence of a break-in. Clinton told the FBI she was unaware of specific details about the security, software or hardware used on her server and occasionally received odd-looking emails. But she told agents there were never so many suspicious emails to cause concerns.
She also said she had no conversations about using a private email server to avoid her obligations under the Federal Records Act or the Freedom of Information Act.
Clinton told investigators that she directed her aides in early 2009 to create a private email account and that it was "a matter of convenience" for it to be moved onto a system maintained by her husband's staff.
She told investigators that "everyone at State knew she had a private email address because it was displayed to anyone with whom she exchanged emails," according to a summary of the July 2 interview released Friday.
Clinton said that when top staff received an email, the recipient would evaluate whether the information should be forwarded to her, but that no one at the State Department raised concerns about her using a private email account or server and said no one on her staff "ever expressed a concern regarding the sensitivity of the content of these emails."