FBI Director James Comey was reportedly warned against notifying Congress about a batch of newly discovered emails with potential ties to Hillary Clinton’s private server.
According to the Washington Post, before issuing the letter to Congress that sent shock waves through the Clinton campaign Friday, Comey consulted senior Justice Department officials who advised him of the DOJ’s position “that we don’t comment on an ongoing investigation. And we don’t take steps that will be viewed as influencing an election.”
“Director Comey understood our position,” said one official, who spoke to the Post on the condition of anonymity. “It was conveyed to the FBI, and Comey made an independent decision to alert the Hill. He is operating independently of the Justice Department. And he knows it.”
The practice of avoiding any activity that could be perceived as an attempt to influence the results of an election is a long-held Justice Department tradition that, the the New Yorker reported, became an official practice four years ago thanks to a memo from then-Attorney General Eric Holder.
In the memo, Holder warned that all DOJ employees “must be particularly sensitive to safeguarding the Department’s reputation for fairness, neutrality, and nonpartisanship” when dealing with political cases, and urged anyone who may face questions about “the timing of charges or overt investigative steps near the time of a primary or general election” to consult the Public Integrity Section of the DOJ’s Criminal Division.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch also urged Comey to stick to the Department’s longstanding practice, according to the New Yorker, and not to take any action that could influence the presidential election— which is now just 10 days away.
In a separate letter sent to FBI employees Friday, Comey offered an explanation for his decision to break with DOJ policy and notify Congress about the newly discovered emails, despite the recommendation from Lynch and other senior officials.
“Of course, 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,” Comey wrote, referring to the Bureau’s previous investigation into Clinton’s private email server. “I also think it would be misleading to the American people were we not to supplement the record.”
At the same time, he continued, “given that we don’t know the significance of this newly discovered collection of emails, I don’t want to create a misleading impression. 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, but I wanted you to hear directly from me about it.”
Reports later revealed that the emails in question were discovered on electronic devices belonging to former Congressman Anthony Weiner, whose sexting habits are currently the subject of a separate FBI investigation. Weiner is the estranged husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin,