The FBI originally planned to say that Hillary Clinton was “grossly negligent” in her handling of secret emails, a top senator said Monday, revealing early drafts of the statement that James B. Comey drew up as FBI director.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, demanded that the FBI detail why Mr. Comey nixed that phrase in later drafts.

Gross negligence would seem to be a high enough standard to have prosecuted Mrs. Clinton — though Mr. Comey ended up not recommending charges, saying that while the former first lady, senator and top diplomat was clueless, he couldn’t prove she knew how badly she was risking national security.

“Although Director Comey’s original version of his statement acknowledged that Secretary Clinton had violated the statute prohibiting gross negligence in the handling of classified information, he nonetheless exonerated her in that early, May 2nd draft statement anyway, arguing that this part of the statute should not be enforced,” Mr. Grassley said in a letter demanding answers from current FBI Director Christopher Wray.

Mr. Grassley said the law governing mishandling of classified information uses a gross negligence standard, which would seem to snare Mrs. Clinton.

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Mrs. Clinton used a secret email account tied to a server she kept at her home in New York to do her official government business. Hundreds of classified emails were sent to and from her account, including some labeled as top secret.

The FBI investigated and Mr. Comey said the breach of security was serious, but he added that the Justice Department had always been reluctant to make cases unless it could prove someone knowingly intended to risk national security.

It was revealed recently that Mr. Comey began drafting an exoneration of Mrs. Clinton well before agents interviewed her or other key witnesses about her behavior.

The Senate Judiciary Committee said as many as 17 witnesses were still awaiting interviews when Mr. Comey began drafting his statement.

Mr. Comey has said publicly that he decided to make a statement about Mrs. Clinton after her husband, former President Bill Clinton, had an airport tarmac meeting with Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch in June 2016. He said he felt that compromised Ms. Lynch’s independence.

Days after the tarmac meeting, Mr. Comey announced the conclusion of his probe into Mrs. Clinton, saying he wasn’t recommending charges to the Justice Department. Ms. Lynch quickly agreed, saying she accepted his recommendations.

But the fact that Mr. Comey began drafting a public statement well before the tarmac meeting has spurred new questions, and the changes in the statement will only feed those.

Mr. Grassley said he wants to see all iterations, including metadata, to try to figure out when and why the changes were made.

In an original statement that Mr. Grassley says appears to have been drafted May 2, Mr. Comey said there was “evidence to support a conclusion that Secretary Clinton, and others, used the private email server in a manner that was grossly negligent with respect to the handling of classified material.”

He also wrote in that draft that “the sheer volume of information that was properly classified as Secret at the time it was discussed on email (that is, excluding the ‘up classified’ emails) supports an inference that the participants were grossly negligent in their handling of that information.”

By June 10, those sentences were deleted and Mr. Comey wrote: “Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”

Mr. Grassley said the FBI’s response should be provided in an unclassified manner, and the senator made clear he believes he has a right to release any unclassified material.

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