A look at Comey’s de­ci­sions in the Clin­ton email case

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - WEATHER - By Eric Tucker

The FBI’s an­nounce­ment that it re­cently came upon new emails pos­si­bly per­ti­nent to the Hil­lary Clin­ton email in­ves­ti­ga­tion raised more ques­tions than an­swers.

FBI Direc­tor James Comey said in a let­ter to Congress on Fri­day that the bureau had dis­cov­ered the emails while pur­su­ing an un­re­lated case and would re­view whether they were clas­si­fied.

The an­nounce­ment, vague in de­tails, im­me­di­ately drew both crit­i­cism and praise to Comey him­self. Some ques­tions and an­swers:

Q : Where did the emails come from?

A : The emails emerged dur­ing a sep­a­rate crim­i­nal sex­ting in­ves­ti­ga­tion into for­mer Rep. An­thony Weiner, es­tranged hus­band of Huma Abe­din, one of Clin­ton’s clos­est aides, a U.S. of­fi­cial with knowl­edge of the mat­ter told The As­so­ci­ated Press. The of­fi­cial was not au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly about the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and dis­cussed the mat­ter on con­di­tion of anonymity.

Fed­eral au­thor­i­ties are in­ves­ti­gat­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions be­tween Weiner, a New York Demo­crat, and a 15-year-old girl.

It was not clear from Comey who sent or re­ceived the emails or what they were about.

Q : Why is this com­ing out so close to the elec­tion? A

: Ap­par­ently be­cause the emails were found very re­cently. In his let­ter to Congress, Comey said he had been briefed only Thurs­day by in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

Re­leas­ing the let­ter opened Comey to par­ti­san crit­i­cism that he was drop­ping a sig­nif­i­cant devel­op­ment too close to an elec­tion. But keep­ing it un­der wraps un­til after Nov. 8 would surely have led to crit­i­cism that he was sit­ting on ma­jor news un­til after the elec­tion.

Comey has said there are no easy de­ci­sions on tim­ing in the case. In an in­ter­nal email sent Fri­day to FBI em­ploy­ees, he said he was try­ing to strike a bal­ance be­tween keep­ing Congress and the pub­lic in­formed and not cre­at­ing a mis­lead­ing im­pres­sion, given that the emails’ sig­nif­i­cance is not yet known.

“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,” he wrote.

Upon learn­ing of Comey’s in­ten­tion to send law­mak­ers the let­ter, Jus­tice De­part­ment of­fi­cials con­veyed dis­ap­proval and ad­vised the FBI against it, ac­cord­ing to a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial fa­mil­iar with the con­ver­sa­tions who was not au­tho­rized to dis­cuss the mat­ter by name and spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity.

De­part­ment lead­ers were con­cerned that the let­ter would be in­con­sis­tent with de­part­ment pol­icy meant to avoid the ap­pear­ance of pros­e­cu­to­rial in­ter­fer­ence or med­dling in elec­tions, the of­fi­cial said.

Q

: Is the dis­clo­sure stan­dard for the FBI? A

: No, but nei­ther was the Clin­ton email in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

In a nod to the ex­tra­or­di­nary na­ture of an elec­tion-year probe into a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, Comey promised ex­tra­or­di­nary trans­parency as he an­nounced the in­ves­ti­ga­tion’s con­clu­sion in July.

“I am go­ing to in­clude more de­tail about our process than I or­di­nar­ily would, be­cause I think the Amer­i­can peo­ple de­serve those de­tails in a case of in­tense pub­lic in­ter­est,” Comey said at the un­usual news con­fer­ence where he an­nounced the FBI would not rec­om­mend crim­i­nal charges against Clin­ton.

Since then, the FBI has pe­ri­od­i­cally re­leased in­ves­tiga­tive files — that is, sum­maries of wit­nesses who were in­ter­viewed. Those ma­te­ri­als aren’t typ­i­cally pub­lic.

Comey, a for­mer Repub­li­can who is not reg­is­tered with a po­lit­i­cal party, has served in gov­ern­ment un­der both Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can ad­min­is­tra­tions and speaks re­peat­edly about the need for the FBI to be ac­count­able to the pub­lic.

His let­ter Fri­day seemed in keep­ing with a state­ment he made to Congress last month, that al­though the FBI had con­cluded its in­ves­ti­ga­tion, “we would cer­tainly look at any new and sub­stan­tial in­for­ma­tion” that emerged.

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