On Friday, FBI Director James Comey sent an alarming-sounding, but vague, letter to Congress informing them that his agency had come across some emails that might be relevant to the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state.
Now, the FBI will get a chance to figure out what the emails actually say.
On Sunday night, the FBI got a warrant to read 650,000 emails sent to or from Clinton aide Huma Abedin. They discovered the emails on a computer belonging to her estranged husband Anthony Weiner, whom they’re investigating for allegedly sexting a 15-year-old girl.
Some, or even all, of the 650,000 emails may be duplicates of the emails the FBI has already looked through during its investigation into Clinton’s server (which was all but closed over the summer, with an announcement from Comey saying that while Clinton exercised poor judgment, there wasn’t a prosecutable case that she’d broken the law). Or they could be totally innocuous. Or they could be an absolute bombshell. The public doesn’t know, and neither does the FBI.
Comey’s announcement upended the presidential race — but the investigation won’t be done in time to settle it again
The timing of Comey’s letter — sent just 11 days before the presidential election — created a media and political firestorm, and seemed to pose the prospect of some sort of smoking gun deeply implicating Clinton that could swing the election.
But as more facts have emerged after hours of leaks from anonymous government officials to various media outlets, it’s become pretty clear that what actually happened is not necessarily all that earth-shaking. Namely:
- The new batch of emails is from a laptop that Clinton aide Huma Abedin shared with her husband, former Congress member Anthony Weiner.
- The FBI came upon them because they’re investigating Weiner’s reported sexting of an underage girl, not anything related to the Clintons.
- The FBI doesn’t seem to even really know what’s on the new emails yet. They could well be duplicative of emails the bureau has already examined.
And there are conflicting reports about whether any of them are even from Hillary Clinton.
As a result, Comey has fallen under intense criticism for his handling of this public disclosure. Republicans and Democrats alike — including both the Trump and Clinton campaigns — have called on him to give more details about what the emails actually are.
But Comey wouldn’t have been able to do that before Sunday night even if he’d wanted to, because his agency hadn’t yet legally gotten permission to look through the emails.
Now they have that permission. But they almost certainly won’t be able to finish their analysis in time for Election Day — sources universally suggest that it’s going to take the FBI more than nine days to look over 650,000 emails.
Nearly everything the public has found out about this story has come out through leaks, presumably from the Justice Department or the FBI itself. It’s possible that more leaks over the next nine days will provide more details about whether these “new” emails are a substantial new development, or even whether they’re really new at all.
But it’s also possible that Comey made a huge splash in the presidential election in order to notify Congress about a cache of emails his agents didn’t even have legal permission to analyze yet, and won’t get the chance to calm the waters again.