Hillary Clinton FBI Notes Didn’t Really Show 39 Times Hillary ‘Couldn’t Remember’


Thanks to the FBI’s release of notes from their interview with Democratic presidential nominee and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Clinton campaign gets to spend the entire Labor Day Weekend weathering a fresh batch of headlines, one of which has now become a staple of the “Emailgate” coverage. Almost instantly, the media began breathlessly citing the number of times Hillary “couldn’t recall” or “didn’t remember” something during that three-and-a-half-hour interview. We counted 40 instances, but the popular number is 39, as you can see:

Yes, that does look pretty bad, It’s little wonder this talking point took hold so quickly and firmly, because in a business where seconds count, it was a quick and simple matter to search the FBI notes for transcript hits on words like “recall” and “remember,” and 39 (or 40) times? That sounds like a lot, even in a 210-minute interview. Well, maybe not. If someone peppered you with questions for three hours at dinner, that would be once every five minutes that you didn’t remember something. Still, it makes a great headline, and this wasn’t a cocktail party, it was an FBI interview.

But the devil, as they say, is in the details. While the FBI’s notes did, indeed, contain the number of references reported, they were not, in fact, what respected journalists like Jake Tapper claimed they were. As has been feverishly noted, this report was not a transcript of the interview, because the interview was not recorded, so what we have here is not Hillary Clinton “(telling) the FBI ‘I do not recall’ 39 times,” but rather, 39 examples of an FBI agent saying Hillary could not recall something.

That seems like a minute distinction, until you actually look at the examples being cited. “Did not recall” is FBI-speak that doesn’t actually mean someone can’t remember something that they should be able to remember, as evidenced by the 15 times Hillary Clinton is said to “not recall” things that she would have no reason to recall because there’s no evidence they happened. For example, “Clinton did not recall receiving any emails she thought should not be on an unclassified system” because she, in fact,  did not receive any emails she thought should not be on an unclassified system. She couldn’t recall using a flip-phone while she was at State because as far as anyone knows, she didn’t use a flip-phone while she was at State.

That’s not Hillary forgetting or evading, that’s her just saying “no,” and an FBI agent noting it the way FBI agents do. You could probably read any random pile of police reports, and come away concluding that people routinely talk about leaving their “domiciles” to enter their “vehicles,” but no one actually talks that way.

Also, as has been pointed out elsewhere, the actual FBI report doesn’t say that Hillary couldn’t remember things because of her concussion, only that she couldn’t “recall every briefing” she received at a time when she had a reduced workload because of the concussion:

Clinton stated she received no instructions or direction regarding the preservation or production of records from [the] State [Department] during the transition out of her role as secretary of state in 2013. However, in December of 2012, Clinton suffered a concussion and then around the New Year had a blood clot. Based on her doctor’s advice, she could only work at State for a few hours a day and could not recall every briefing she received.

There were also an additional ten examples cited that consisted of Hilary Clinton not being able to recall a specific email based solely on the date of the email, or on the subject line, or some other singular identifying characteristic, which is a completely reasonable thing not to remember. In most of those instance, though, she went on to provide reasonably detailed responses based on the context provided to her, despite the appearance or inference of evasion this talking point has promoted.

There is not a single instance of Hillary Clinton saying “I do not recall” (which is the specific claim that these journalists made) because this report is not a transcript, and contains almost no direct quotes from Hillary Clinton. That’s why the FBI normally doesn’t release these reports, because they don’t actually have any evidenciary value, and are, in fact, subject to misinterpretation by novices, or mischaracterization by those hostile to the truth. You’d have to ask the FBI why they decided to do so in this case.

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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