Hillary Clinton smiles during a campaign rally, where she received the endorsement of Barack Obama, in Charlotte, North Carolina, July 5, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst(reuters_tickers)
By Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hillary Clinton disputed a scathing assessment by the Federal Bureau of Investigation that she was "extremely careless" with classified government secrets, saying on Friday she relied on the judgement of her subordinates at the U.S. State Department.
After maintaining for more than a year that she did not send or receive classified information through her unauthorised private email system, she acknowledged in a string of interviews on Friday she may have at least unwittingly done so, three days after the FBI concluded this happened at least 110 times.
Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said she "certainly did not believe" that she was handling classified information on her email system at the time, but emphasized that she followed the lead of her subordinates on whether information was classified.
"I did not have a basis for second-guessing their conclusion," Clinton said in an interview with CNN, saying she had the "highest regard" for her former colleagues.
"These are experienced diplomats, they have expertise in handling classified material," she said in a separate interview with PBS Newshour. "They were not careless and the material that they sent, they did not believe that was classified."
Clinton, who was the department's most senior classifying authority during her four-year tenure at its helm, did not address the FBI's conclusion that she herself sent information on topics classified as 'top secret', the highest level, through a private server she kept in her basement.
"I have said, and I repeated, that it was a mistake to use personal email and I regret that," she said in another interview with ABC.
It is a crime to mishandle classified information, and while FBI Director James Comey said on Tuesday there was evidence Clinton or her aides may have broken these laws, there was not enough evidence of criminal intent for a prosecution.
In an unusual 15-minute announcement explaining the FBI's findings, Comey ended up dismaying both Republicans and Democrats.
While Clinton's Republican opponents have fumed at the decision not to file criminal charges, Clinton and her staff have disputed some of Comey's criticisms that undermine her argument that she has better judgement than Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate.
Comey called her and her staff "extremely careless" and said that any "reasonable" government employee should have recognised that such information should not be aired in emails. Her server was so poorly secured the FBI could not eliminate the possibility it had not been hacked by the country's enemies, Comey said.
Asked if she agreed that she was "extremely careless", Clinton told CNN she was not, adding that Comey had "clarified" his remarks. It was unclear what clarification Clinton meant.
In lengthier comments before lawmakers on Thursday, Comey again spoke of Clinton's and her staff's carelessness and "real sloppiness", adding that it seemed she was not "particularly sophisticated with respect to classified information."
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Bernard Orr)