An internal chart prepared by federal investigators working on the so-called "Midyear Exam" probe into Hillary Clinton's emails, exclusively reviewed by Fox News, contained the words "NOTE: DOJ not willing to charge this" next to a key statute on the mishandling of classified information. The notation appeared to contradict former FBI Director James Comey's repeated claims that his team made its decision that Clinton should not face criminal charges independently.
Fox News has confirmed the chart served as a critical tip that provided the basis for Texas Republican Rep. John Ratcliffe's explosive questioning of former FBI lawyer Lisa Page last year, in which Page agreed with Ratcliffe's characterization that the DOJ had told the FBI that "you're not going to charge gross negligence." A transcript of Page's remarks was published Tuesday as part of a major document release by the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, Georgia Rep. Doug Collins.
The document, entitled "Espionage Act Charges - Retention/Mishandling," contained a list of several criminal statutes related to the mishandling of classified information, as well as a list of all the elements that prosecutors would need to prove in order to successfully prosecute a case.
Among the statutes listed are 18 U.S.C. 793(d), which covers the “willfull” retention of national defense information that could harm the U.S.; 18 U.S.C. 793(f), which pertains to "gross negligence" in the handling of classified information by permitting the information to be "removed from its proper place of custody"; and 18 U.S.C. 1924, listed as a misdemeanor related to retaining classified materials at an "unauthorized location."
Listed directly below to the elements of 18 U.S.C. 793(f) were the words: "NOTE: DOJ not willing to charge this; only known cases are Military, cases when accused lost the information (e.g. thumb drive sent to unknown recipient at wrong address.)"
None of the other descriptions of the statutes had a similar notation.
In July 2016, Comey took the unusual step of making a public statement about the Clinton email investigation findings and his decision to recommend against criminal charges. He said Clinton had been "extremely careless" in handling classified information but insisted that "no reasonable prosecutor" would bring a case against her.
Comey stated: "What I can assure the American people is that this investigation was done competently, honestly, and independently. No outside influence of any kind was brought to bear."
He later explained that he took the unusual step of announcing the FBI's conclusions because then-Obama administration Attorney General Loretta Lynch was spotted meeting secretly with former President Bill Clinton on an airport tarmac as the probe into Hillary Clinton, which Lynch was overseeing, continued.
Federal law states "gross negligence" in handling the nation’s intelligence can be punished criminally with prison time or fines, and there is no requirement that defendants act intentionally. Nevertheless, Comey said at the news conference, "Prosecutors necessarily weigh a number of factors before bringing charges," including "the strength of the evidence, especially regarding intent."
Originally Comey accused the former secretary of state of being “grossly negligent” in handling classified information in a draft dated May 2, 2016, but that was modified to claim that Clinton had merely been “extremely careless” in a draft dated June 10, 2016.
Page and since-fired FBI Special Agent Peter Strzok, who were romantically involved, exchanged numerous anti-Trump text messages in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, and Republicans have long accused the bureau of political bias.
However, Page's testimony and the internal "Midyear Exam" chart constituted perhaps the most salient evidence yet that the Justice Department may have interfered improperly with the FBI's supposedly independent conclusions on Clinton's criminal culpability.
"So let me if I can, I know I’m testing your memory," Ratcliffe began as he questioned Page under oath, according to a transcript excerpt he posted on Twitter. "But when you say advice you got from the Department, you’re making it sound like it was the Department that told you: You’re not going to charge gross negligence because we’re the prosecutors and we’re telling you we’re not going to —"
Page interrupted: "That is correct," as Ratcliffe finished his sentence, " -- bring a case based on that."
Responding to the transcript revelations, Trump on Wednesday tweeted: "The just revealed FBI Agent Lisa Page transcripts make the Obama Justice Department look exactly like it was, a broken and corrupt machine. Hopefully, justice will finally be served. Much more to come!"
Fox News' Cyd Upson contributed to this report.