In a letter to FBI employees explaining why he’d alerted Congress about newly discovered emails pertaining to Hillary Clinton, bureau Director James Comey stressed he understood the “significant risk” with going public so close to an election.
“Given that we don’t know the significance of this newly discovered collection of emails, I don’t want to create a misleading impression,” he wrote, adding that his desire to keep the public abreast with developments superseded that concern.
Less than 24 hours after Comey tried to calm nerves at the FBI, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump proved his fears to be justified and raised additional questions about why he went public in the first place.
Speaking at a rally in Golden, Colorado, Trump made a series of apparent mischaracterizations or uninformed assertions about the state of the FBI investigation and law enforcement in general that will only muddy the waters further about this 11th hour campaign development.
It started with Trump’s blanket claim that the newly discovered emails ― found, apparently, on a computer that belonged to former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), the estranged husband of longtime Clinton aide Huma Abedin ― proved his Democratic rival was “guilty” of… something.
The newly discovered emails do not support such a claim. Indeed, no one is entirely sure what the emails say. There are reportedly more than a thousand of them. But those reports also say that many may be duplicates of ones the FBI has already investigated. It’s not entirely clear, additionally, whether the emails originated from Clinton herself, Abedin or neither.
Trump also insisted that because the FBI had announced that investigators were looking into the emails, it had to be that the material they’d discovered was massive in scope and scandal. “Now the evidence is so overwhelming ― because they wouldn’t have done this unless the evidence was overwhelming,” he said.
But all that Comey revealed on Friday was that the emails the FBI had discovered appeared “to be pertinent to the [earlier] investigation.”
Agents aren’t even sure what emails are on Weiner’s computer, it’s been reported. And Comey himself wrote that the FBI could not assess whether the material “may be significant.”
Trump didn’t stop there. Though no one actually knows what will be found on the device, he still speculated about what was there.
He admitted, at one point, that he had no knowledge to assert that Comey had made his announcement because there was dissatisfaction within his ranks. But Trump made the assertion anyway. “There was a revolt and I can be pretty sure of it,” he said.
Trump also seized on reports that Comey’s decision to write to Congress went against the recommendation of Attorney General Loretta Lynch to claim that the Department of Justice was biased against him.
“Now the Attorney General is fighting the FBI, because the FBI finally did what was right,” he said. “The Department of Justice is trying so hard to protect Hillary.”
But Lynch’s efforts to dissuade Comey from going public didn’t have to do with protecting Clinton so much as trying to uphold a longstanding DoJ practice of not interfering in campaigns so close to election day. If anything, Comey appears to have acted roguely in this instance, with numerous career and non-career justice officials expressing shock with his decision to make a public pronouncement 11 days before people vote.
That didn’t stop Trump from speculating, of course.
“There are those, and I happen to be one of them, who think Hillary Clinton offered Loretta Lynch a reappointment,” he said. This claim might be less dubious than the others, however, since The New York Times has reported that Clinton is considering retaining Lynch at the DOJ.
For good measure, Trump compared the American system of justice to what one would find in a developing nation, adding that “in terms of our judicial system, this is the lowest point in the history of our country.”
The Republican nominee is, of course, well within his rights to make political hay out of the latest reminder that Clinton acted recklessly in using a private email account. And considering all the wild things said during the course of the campaign, Saturday’s speech was not particularly noteworthy with respect to how far it departed from the factually known. Still, Trump showed Comey that his fears about misinformation being spread were not unfounded. And it raises the stakes on the FBI director to come forward to add some clarity to the conversation (both campaigns have called on him to do so).
There was one Trump assessment that seemed on point to all parties involved: Clinton, Comey and even his own campaign. Weiner, Trump noted, was “a major, major sleaze.”