Comey went rogue and threw a Molotov cocktail into the election just 11 days before voters go to the polls, something no FBI director has ever done.
It came in the form of a letter to Congress. He said he was reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server based on newly discovered emails.
But he was vague about their importance or how they were related to Clinton or the email investigation.
The letter, however, had enormous political impact, at least initially.
Republican candidate Donald Trump and his surrogates seized on them. Trump pronounced them proof of criminal wrong-doing. Of course, he had no evidence to support his claim.
As devastating as the revelation appeared to be for Clinton, the release of additional details began to turn the tables on Comey, Republicans and the Trump campaign.
As it turned out, Comey defied his boss, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who had advised him to follow department guidelines.
They policy states that “ongoing operations and investigations” must be kept confidential to safeguard “the rights of victims and litigants as well as the protection of the life and safety of other parties and witnesses,” according to The Huffington Post.
Former federal prosecutors were shocked and outraged by the move.
“It is shocking and disheartening that someone I admired would do this,” Julie Werner-Simon, a former federal prosecutor who retired from the justice department last year, told the online newspaper.
In a letter to his staff, Comey tried to justify the decision. He wrote that he had “an obligation” to inform Republican congressional leaders, “given that I testified repeatedly in recent months that our investigation was completed.”
“I also think it would be misleading to the American people were we not to supplement the record,” he said.
Comey said in July after a lengthy investigation that no responsible prosecutor would proceed with criminal charges against Clinton over her private email server.
According to Werner-Simon, there are exceptions to the justice department confidentiality rules but they apply only in unusual circumstances. But the FBI typically doesn’t act on them without approval from the department.
“Who gave him permission? If he is going to use unusual circumstances under the U.S. Attorneys’ Manual, who did he discuss it with?” Werner-Simon said.
Clinton, meanwhile, called Comey on the carpet at a campaign rally today in Daytona Beach, Fla., a state where she held a slim lead and one that Trump has to win if he hopes to capture the White House.
“If you’re like me, you probably have a few questions about it,’ Clinton said at the rally. “It is pretty strange. It’s pretty strange to put something like that out with such little information, right before an election,” Clinton said.
“In fact, it’s not just strange it’s unprecedented and it’s deeply troubling,’ Clinton added.
Comey’s letter caught Clinton’s campaign by surprise. The FBI director never notified her or her campaign that the investigation had been reopened.
She immediately challenged him to “put it all out on the table.”
She also attacked Trump for making unsubstantiated comments about the investigation.
“He’s doing his best to confuse, mislead and discourage the American people. I think it’s time for Donald Trump to stop fear-mongering,” she said.
The emails in question were discovered on a laptop computer shared Clinton aide Huma Abedin and her estranged husband, former Congressman Anthony Weiner. Weiner is being investigated for sexting with a 15-year-old girl.
Clinton campaign chairman, John Podesta said today (Oct. 29) that Comey’s letter was “long on innuendo and short on facts,”
The emails were reportedly not written to Clinton or written by the presidential candidate, according to The Los Angeles Times
Podesta’s email account has been the source of hundreds of emails from inside the Clinton that have been stolen and released by Wikileaks.
The hack was thought to have been instigated by the Russian government, according to U.S. intelligence agencies.
If the preliminary finding turns out to be true, it would be the most widespread and serious interference in a U.S. election by a foreign government in U.S. history.
The email releases have benefited the Trump campaign.
Russian chess master Gary Kasparov, a vocal Putin critic, told CNN in an interview that he’s “absolutely” certain Putin is interfering in the election.
“I don’t believe for a second that Trump was clean and they couldn’t find anything,” he said. “More likely, they had plenty but they decided to use it privately to good effect, whether we are talking about debts or blackmail.”
Kasparov warned that Trump’s repeated harping on rigged elections is “fertilizing the ground” for potential civil unrest. “That is Putin’s greatest dream,” he says.
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