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C. Eugene Emery Jr.
By C. Eugene Emery Jr. July 15, 2016

Donald Trump mischaracterizes FBI director comment about Hillary Clinton's email practices

Republican nominee Donald Trump seized on testimony from the head of the FBI to slam Democrat Hillary Clinton’s email practices while she was secretary of state.

The practices were detailed by FBI Director James Comey in a July 5 news conference and an appearance two days later before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The FBI declined to recommend prosecution in Clinton’s case.

Comey concluded that Clinton was wrong when she repeatedly said that classified emails didn't end up on her personal system and he characterized her handling of very sensitive information as "extremely careless."

Trump told the crowd at a July 11 campaign rally in Virginia Beach, Va., that Clinton's conduct as "willful, intentional, and unlawful."

"Just look at what the FBI director said about her — her misconduct is a disgrace and embarrassment to our country," Trump said.

Comey was tough on Clinton, saying at one point that any reasonable person in Clinton's position "should have known that an unclassified system was no place" for some of the conversations she was having. But we didn't recall him saying her conduct was "a disgrace" or an "embarrassment." So we decided to check it out.

The Trump campaign doesn't regularly respond to PolitiFact's requests for information. But in this case, the Trump campaign posted the speech (as prepared but without his extemporaneous remarks) with annotations.

The speech transcript specifically indicates, via the dash, that Trump was explaining the remarks of the FBI director, not just giving his own opinion. Trump's delivery on video makes it sound that way, too, and that's what caught our attention. 

The campaign said that the source for the "disgrace and embarrassment" line came from the Washington Post's transcript of Comey's July 5 news conference.

We checked. Neither the words "disgrace" nor "embarrassment" are contained in the transcript.

We checked Congressional Quarterly's transcript. Same result.

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We wondered if Comey might have used the words during the hours he spent before the House committee two days later. He did not.

We read his public comments again, looking for words that mean the same thing as a disgrace or an embarrassment. We didn’t find them. Instead, Comey used words that focused on her conduct as showing a lack of attention.

"I think she was extremely careless. I think she was negligent. That, I could establish. What we can't establish is that she acted with the necessary criminal intent," was about as harsh as Comey got.

He declined to say whether Clinton lied to the public. He did suggest that Clinton may have been less sophisticated about email than most people assumed. "She didn't have a computer in her office at the State Department, for example," Comey said.

We wondered if anybody used the words "disgrace" or "embarrassment" during the hearing. They did not.

Our ruling

Trump said, "Just look at what the FBI director said about her (Hillary Clinton) — her misconduct  is a disgrace and embarrassment to our country."

The Trump campaign indicated Comey said it during his news conference. He didn't. He said her actions were careless, but he didn’t call them a disgrace or an embarrassment or the equivalent.

It's possible that Trump was trying to convey two different thoughts, urging people to look up the FBI director's comments and the "disgrace and embarrassment" comment was supposed to be his own characterization.

But that's not how it comes across, both when spoken and in the transcript.

With that in mind, we rate it False.

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Donald Trump mischaracterizes FBI director comment about Hillary Clinton's email practices

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