James Comey Did The Exact Thing He Said He Wanted To Avoid When Investigating Hillary Clinton's Emails
Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign hit a bit of a snag when FBI Director James Comey told congressional lawmakers that his agency was reviewing new emails "that appear to be pertinent to the investigation" of the Democratic nominee's use of a personal server. While the news came as a shock, Comey was sparse on details — an odd choice considering Comey had expressed concerns to his staff in an internal memo about creating a misleading impression.
Although Comey's letter to Congress revealed few details — he said only that the FBI would "review these emails to determine whether they contain classified information as well as to assess their importance to [their] investigation" — it sparked feverish speculation. Article after article mulling over what might be found within these new messages and how that information might affect the presidential election rolled out amid unconfirmed (and dare I say, misleading) claims Clinton was back "under FBI investigation." Surely Comey was well-aware that the FBI's email review would likely dominate both headlines and national conversation.
In an internal memo obtained by the Washington Post, Comey said he felt obligated to alert Congress to the emails but didn't want to "create a misleading impression" given he didn't know the significance of the newly surfaced messages. "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 said, adding he felt keeping the development quiet would "be misleading" to voters. "At the same time, however, given that we don't know the significance of this newly discovered collection of emails, I don't want to create a misleading impression." Comey went on to acknowledge the risk his decision would be misunderstood but said he was trying to strike a balance.
As good as Comey's intentions may have been, it's hard for me to see how his vague letter to Congress doesn't create a misleading impression — you know, the thing he said he wanted to avoid. In a copy of the letter obtained by the New York Times, Comey offered Congress few details, stating only that "in connection with an unrelated case, the FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation."
Comey then stated not that the FBI was reopening its investigation into Clinton as some Republicans have since claimed, but that he felt the agency "should take appropriate investigative steps" to review new emails obtained during a probe into sexting allegations against former Congressman Anthony Weiner "to determine whether they contain classified information." Comey admitted at the time, "The FBI cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant, and I cannot predict how long it will take us to complete this additional work."
Clearly, Comey is in a tight spot. He faced heavy bipartisan scrutiny and criticism throughout the FBI's investigation into Clinton's use of a private email server and would likely not have escaped unscathed either way. Eager to get to the truth of the matter, both the Clinton campaign and Donald Trump's campaign have urged Comey to release more details about the emails and the review they've inspired.
Until more information becomes available, there's little for anyone to do but speculate. While Comey may have wanted to avoid misleading Americans a little more than a week before voters head to the polls on Election Day, the vagueness of his letter did the exact thing he said he wanted to avoid.