FBI Director James B. Comey decided to inform Congress that he would look again into Hillary Clinton’s handling of emails during her time as secretary of state for two main reasons: a sense of obligation to lawmakers and a concern that word of the new email discovery would leak to the media and raise questions of a coverup.
The rationale, described by officials close to Comey’s decision-making on the condition of anonymity, prompted the FBI director to release his brief letter to Congress on Friday and upset a presidential race less than two weeks before Election Day. It placed Comey again at the center of a highly partisan argument over whether the nation’s top law enforcement agency was unfairly influencing the campaign.
In a memo explaining his decision to FBI employees soon after he sent his letter to Congress, Comey said he felt “an obligation to do so given that I testified repeatedly in recent months that our investigation was completed.”
“Of course, we don’t ordinarily tell Congress about ongoing investigations, but here I feel I also think it would be misleading to the American people were we not to supplement the record,” Comey wrote to his employees.
The last time Comey found himself in the campaign spotlight was in July, when he announced that he had finished a months-long investigation into whether Clinton mishandled classified information through the use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state. After he did so, the denunciation was loudest from Republican nominee Donald Trump and his supporters, who accused the FBI director of bias in favor of Clinton’s candidacy. There was also grumbling within FBI ranks, with a largely conservative investigative corps complaining privately that Comey should have tried harder to make a case.
This time the loudest criticism has come from Clinton and her supporters, who said Friday that Comey had provided too little information about the nature of the new line of investigation and allowed Republicans to seize political ground as a result. The inquiry focuses on Clinton emails found on a computer used by former congressman Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), now under investigation for sending sexually explicit messages to a minor, and top Clinton aide Huma Abedin, who is Weiner’s wife. The couple have since separated.
“It is extraordinary that we would see something like this just 11 days out from a presidential election,” John Podesta, the chairman of Clinton’s presidential campaign, said in a statement. “The Director owes it to the American people to immediately provide the full details of what he is now examining. We are confident this will not produce any conclusions different from the one the FBI reached in July.”