Something strange happened Friday after the FBI director’s bombshell revelation of newly obtained emails that he said may be relevant to the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server: The presidential campaigns of Democrat Clinton and Republican Donald Trump found common ground.
Both camps demanded that FBI Director James Comey disclose more details about the emails and the bureau’s investigation, which he made known in a letter to Congress just 11 days before the election.
“FBI Director Comey should immediately provide the American public more information than is contained in the letter he sent to eight Republican committee chairmen,” Clinton campaign chair John Podesta said in a statement that called Comey’s move “extraordinary.”
Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said she agreed with Podesta’s demand. Voters, she told MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki, “have a right to know who this woman is, because you look at the polling and it’s exactly who they suspect she is.”
Comey’s letter prompted cheers from Trump supporters, who would like to see Clinton in trouble. But it also sparked a wave of complaint from Democrats, and even some former Department of Justice officials, questioning the timing of Comey’s letter and its scant details likely to leave many voters bewildered. Many challenged the FBI director’s motives, increasing the pressure on him to comply with calls from both campaigns for more information.
Matthew Miller, a former Department of Justice spokesman, turned to Twitter to question Comey’s judgment.
“This is such an inappropriate public disclosure by Comey,” Miller wrote. “And sadly the latest in a long string of them. But today’s disclosure might be worst abuse yet.”
Miller told Politico that the Justice Department typically avoids discussing investigations within 60 days of an election because “voters have no way to interpret FBI/DOJ activity in a neutral way.” He also noted that Comey seems only to comment on ongoing investigations when they involve Clinton.
One former federal prosecutor said Comey acted “totally inappropriately.”
“He had no business writing to Congress about supposed new emails that neither he nor anyone in the FBI has ever reviewed,” Nick Akerman, a former assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, told Politico.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Comey’s statement “is particularly troubling since so many questions are unanswered.”
“Director Comey’s announcement played right into the political campaign of Donald Trump, who is already using the letter for political purposes,” Feinstein said in a statement. “And all of this just 11 days before the election.”
The conservative foundation Judicial Watch issued a statement taking partial credit for the FBI director’s actions and joined the demand for more information.
“Hillary Clinton’s email misconduct and lies, aided and abetted by the Obama administration, have created a national crisis,” Judicial Watch said. “The FBI needs to disclose more information about what it found and when ― the American voters deserve answers now.”
Comey said in his letter that the FBI didn’t yet know the significance of the new emails. The Wall Street Journal reported the FBI hadn’t determined whether emails in the new trove were duplicates of the thousands of emails already reviewed by investigators.
A Newsweek article argues that Comey was forced to disclose the investigation. Withholding it would have backfired horribly on the bureau if the probe was discovered after the election, the article says.
Comey’s position may be complicated by his earlier testimony to Congress about the FBI’s initial probe of Clinton’s emails, in which he recommended no charges against Clinton and called her actions “extremely careless.”
“Even at the risk of helping Trump, Comey has notified Congress (and the world) about it so as to clarify his prior testimony,” Benjamin Wittes wrote on Law Fare blog. “This allows voters to judge how to consider this before the election—even though he will almost surely not be able to say anything more until after the election. It’s a way of not pretending that the investigation is ‘complete’ when he knows there is some degree of residual issue.”
Comey, for his part, said in a note to FBI employees Friday that he had “an obligation” to disclose the probe to Congress.
“I feel an obligation to do so given that I testified repeatedly in recent months that our investigation was completed,” Comey wrote in the memo, obtained by The Washington Post. “I also think it would be misleading to the American people were we not to supplement the record. 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. 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.”