After facing a storm of bipartisan criticism for his cryptic message about “emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation” of Hillary Clinton, the FBI is attempting to accelerate its examination of hundreds of thousands of emails that may or may not implicate Mrs. Clinton for the improper handling of classified material. Comey’s letter to Congress to “supplement” his previous testimony has upended the presidential election, bringing complaints from both sides of the aisle and rejoicing from Trump supporters.
The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), wrote to Comey, “While I disagree with those who suggest you should have kept the FBI’s discovery secret until after the election, I agree that your disclosure did not go far enough.” Grassley continued, “Without additional context, your disclosure is not fair to Congress, the American people, or Secretary Clinton.” Grassley called for a response to congressional queries on the emails by Friday, November 4.
CNN reported that former Attorney General Eric Holder said, “Good men make mistakes. In this instance, he [Comey] has committed a serious error with potentially severe implications.” Holder said that Comey’s letter “violated long-standing Justice Department policies and tradition” that prevent officials from commenting on ongoing investigations and politically sensitive matters for 60 days prior to an election. “I fear he has unintentionally and negatively affected public trust in both the Justice Department and the FBI,” Holder added.
Former Bush Administration Attorney General Alberto Gonzales agreed. “If you delay the announcement, hopefully it’s not going to jeopardize an investigation, it’s not going to jeopardize the pursuit of justice, and voters will have the opportunity to vote on Election Day without information that may in fact be incomplete or untrue,” Gonzales said on CNN.
In the wake of Comey’s letter, it seemed that the FBI was feeling little urgency in the investigation. The Washington Post reported that agents investigating the Wiener case knew of the emails several weeks ago, even though Comey said he only learned of them on Thursday, the day before his letter to Congress. ABC News reported that it was not until Sunday night, three days after Comey learned of the emails, that the FBI finally received a warrant to begin reviewing their contents.
Now that the review is underway, the Los Angeles Times reports that the Justice Department has promised to “dedicate all necessary resources and take appropriate steps as expeditiously as possible.” The investigators are using a computer program to flag emails that require individual review. The number of emails pertinent to the investigation is likely to be a small fraction of the estimated 650,000 emails. Even with expedited handling it is unlikely that the review will be completed before the election.
In the end, there may be nothing new to be found in the pile of emails. In a letter to FBI employees, Comey wrote, “We don’t ordinarily tell Congress about ongoing investigations, but here I feel an obligation to do so given that I testified repeatedly in recent months that our investigation was completed.” He continued, “Given that we don’t know the significance of this newly discovered collection of emails, I don’t want to create a misleading impression. In trying to strike that balance, in a brief letter and in the middle of an election season, there is significant risk of being misunderstood.”
It seems that Comey has definitely been misunderstood and has created a misleading and confusing situation for both the voters and the candidates only a week and a half prior to the election. Ronald Hosko, a former senior FBI official, told the LA Times, “I don’t envision a circumstance where this changes dramatically [for Clinton],” but many, including Donald Trump, have received a different impression. Regardless of the content of the emails, the mere announcement of the review can impact the election.
After vague and contradictory statements about the email investigation over the past several months, the FBI owes voters a full and rapid explanation of its findings and the contents of the emails. Voters should not be forced to choose a president based on incomplete and misleading information.