Washington (CNN) – A former top counterintelligence expert at the FBI, now at the center of a political uproar for exchanging private messages that appeared to mock President Donald Trump, changed a key phrase in former FBI Director James Comey’s description of how former secretary of state Hillary Clinton handled classified information, according to US officials familiar with the matter.Electronic records show Peter Strzok, who led the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server as the No. 2 official in the counterintelligence division, changed Comey’s earlier draft language describing Clinton’s actions as “grossly negligent” to “extremely careless,” the source said.The drafting process was a team effort, CNN is told, with a handful of people reviewing the language as edits were made, according to another US official familiar with the matter.The shift from “grossly negligent” to “extremely careless,” which may appear pedestrian at first glance, reflected a decision by the FBI that could have had potentially significant legal implications, as the federal law governing the mishandling of classified material establishes criminal penalties for “gross negligence.”Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, raised questions over why the change was made after receiving documents from the FBI last month, but the identity of who was behind the edit has not been reported until now.CNN has also learned that Strzok was the FBI official who signed the document officially opening an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, according to sources familiar with the matter. As the No. 2 official in counterintelligence, Strzok was considered to be one of the bureau’s top experts on Russia.But the news of Strzok’s direct role in the statement that ultimately cleared the former Democratic presidential candidate of criminal wrongdoing, now combined with the fact that he was dismissed from special counsel Robert Mueller’s team after exchanging private messages with an FBI lawyer that could be seen as favoring Clinton politically, may give ammunition to those seeking ways to discredit Mueller’s Russia investigation.The FBI and the Justice Department declined to comment.
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