WASHINGTON — FBI officials questioned Hillary Clinton extensively about her judgment in using her private email system to discuss classified drone strikes and in allowing aides to destroy large numbers of emails, before ultimately deciding she should not face criminal charges, according to investigative documents released Friday.
The documents provided a number of new details about Clinton's private server, including what appeared to be a frantic effort by a computer specialist to delete an archive of her emails even after a congressional committee had requested they be preserved.
In a 31/2-hour interview with the Justice Department's top counterintelligence officials July 2, Clinton defended her handling of the private email system by repeatedly saying she had deferred to the judgment of her aides, an FBI summary of the interview showed.
Clinton's use of the private server has shadowed her presidential campaign for a year. And the newly disclosed records, while largely reinforcing what had been known about the FBI investigation, provided Republicans more ammunition to attack the Democratic nominee's judgment and honesty as she heads into the final, post-Labor Day phase of the campaign.
Among the other key findings:
• Clinton regarded emails containing classified discussions about planned drone strikes as "routine."
• She said she was either unaware of or misunderstood some classification procedures.
• Colin Powell, a former secretary of state, advised her to "be very careful" in how she used email.
The FBI documents show that an unnamed computer specialist deleted the archive of Clinton's emails weeks after the existence of the private server became public in March 2015.
Days after the New York Times first reported that Clinton had used a private email system exclusively as secretary of state, the House committee investigating the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, asked that her emails be preserved and subpoenaed those that were related to the attacks.
About three weeks later, however, the specialist "had an 'oh s---' moment" and realized that he had not destroyed an archive of emails that was supposed to have been deleted a year earlier, according to the FBI report.
The specialist then used a program known as BleachBit to delete an unknown number of emails, according to the report. Clinton told investigators that she was unaware that the aide had deleted the emails.
Dozens of times during her interview, Clinton said she did not remember details about the server or guidance she had received on how to handle classified information.
FBI officials appear to have questioned Clinton most aggressively about her judgment in using her private, unsecured system to get emails about how or where the Obama administration was planning to launch drone strikes against terrorism suspects, the documents indicated.
After being shown one email that was redacted from the public release of her emails, Clinton "stated deliberation over a future drone strike did not give her cause for concern regarding classification," according to the FBI summary of the interview.
Clinton's campaign said it was pleased that the FBI had made the documents public.
But Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, called the documents "a devastating indictment of her judgment, honesty and basic competency."