WASHINGTON – The director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation has once again broken institutional precedent by inserting himself into national politics, this time barely one week before a presidential election.
James Comey, who in July called an extraordinary press conference to publicly detail why he had decided not to recommend criminal charges against Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server during her tenure at the State Department, once again stepped beyond his typical role of privately opening and closing cases and announced, in letters to congressional leadership, that new evidence had come to light that “appears to be pertinent” to Clinton’s prior case.
Emails uncovered in a separate investigation – which American media is reporting have to do with Clinton’s top aide, Huma Abedin, and her estranged husband Anthony Weiner’s sexting relationship with an underage girl – appear to be the source of the FBI’s interest.
The mere possibility that these new emails, which have not themselves yet been investigated, may have something to do with the prior case warranted to Comey a public declaration of their existence.
The FBI’s closed Clinton investigation was not only of Clinton herself – it was also of her top aides and their own handling of classified information. These newly found emails may have nothing to do with the former secretary of state, or everything to do with her, and they may have nothing to do with anything at all.
It is the policy of both the FBI and the Justice Department not to comment on politically sensitive investigations within sixty days of any American election – whether they are on the state, local or national level. Similar to his press conference in July, this move by Comey eleven days out is unprecedented, but seems to have been motivated by fears he would appear political either way: He had repeatedly testified before Congress on the case, and in doing so, told members that he would be sure to inform them of any developments as they arise.
His stated goal is transparency, but no one outside of the FBI can say they have any clue what is happening, other than to say the FBI may or may not have found new information pertinent to their old case. We cannot even read into their decision that this information the bureau is withholding must be of sufficient value to warrant such an extraordinary move, because Comey’s decision may just as well be motivated by his desire to protect himself or the bureau from criticism, or to get in front of a politically motivated leak.
The Clinton campaign must now fight against not a new FBI investigation, but the shadow of one and the impression it leaves on the minds of voters just nine days out from Election Day. Already, 15 million people have gone to the polls in early voting states, and more continue to do so on a daily basis.
The electoral effects of this October surprise are impossible to measure, but it has reinvigorated a Republican nominee who had previously been left for dead.
News of this development overjoyed Donald Trump, who took the opportunity to call Clinton’s ongoing scandal worse than Watergate, and his supporters let out calls to “lock her up” with renewed urgency.
“The FBI would not have reopened this case at this time unless it were a most egregious offense,” Trump said on Friday night. “I don’t know what’s going to happen now.”