Two days before American voters decide the next president, FBI Director James Comey informed Congress that after a new review of a large trove of emails discovered in a separate investigation, the agency has reaffirmed its earlier decision that no charges will be brought against Hillary Clinton.
“The FBI investigative team has been working around the clock to process and review a large volume of emails from a device obtained in connected with an unrelated criminal investigation,” Comey wrote in a letter dated Sunday to members of relevant congressional committees.
“Based on our review, we have not changed our conclusions that we expressed in July with respect to Secretary Clinton.”
In July, Comey said the Democratic nominee and her aides were “extremely careless” in the former secretary of state’s use of a private email server during her tenure. But he concluded then there was no evidence they intentionally mishandled classified information.
The Sunday letter brought welcome relief to the Democratic nominee’s campaign. It also fueled a predictable return to cries of a “rigged” system from her Republican rival, Donald Trump. The GOP nominee had seized on a narrow political opening, created just over a week ago, when Comey informed lawmakers he had opened a new review of emails potentially related to Clinton’s private server.
Clinton leads Trump by 1.8 points some 48 hours from the polls opening on Election Day Tuesday, according to a Real Clear Politics polling average.
“She’s protected by a rigged system,” Trump said Sunday at a rally in Minneapolis, immediately after the news broke. “She shouldn’t even be allowed to run for president.”
Clinton’s campaign had maintained confidence the latest review would exonerate her.
“We were always confident nothing would cause the July decision to be revisited,” Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon tweeted Sunday. “Now Director Comey has confirmed it.”
Comey shook up the 2016 presidential election in its final stretch — and took a rare step for an FBI director — when he informed lawmakers Oct. 28 that investigators had discovered potentially relevant emails while separately probing allegations that Anthony Weiner exchanged sexually explicit communications with underage women. Weiner, a former New York congressman and Democratic mayoral candidate, is now estranged from his wife, close Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
It’s unclear how much the October letter may have prompted tightening in the polls in recent days. But it certainly slowed Clinton’s building momentum as her confident campaign threw additional money into battleground and even traditionally Republican states.
The FBI investigation also threw Trump something of a lifeline. At the time, the FBI chief made clear it was unknown whether the latest email batch would be relevant in the closed investigation into Clinton’s use of private email. Yet Trump and his allies seized on the news to reinforce a narrative the Democrat has found difficult to shake: That she’s untrustworthy and sees herself as above the law.
On Sunday, at the Minnesota rally, Trump was already back to cries of a “rigged” system. But even his appearance smacked of desperation: The solidly-blue Midwestern state hasn’t voted for a Republican since 1972, and the businessman-turned-politician had already all but ceded the state to Clinton.
Last month, Clinton aides and powerful surrogates — including President Barack Obama — aggressively criticized the FBI, questioning both the timing and lack of details in Comey’s Oct. 28 notification to Congress. It’s unlikely their frustrations will abate with Sunday’s letter: Reports suggest the much of the newly-scrutinized emails may have been duplicates of those already reviewed by agents.
The Justice Department had strongly urged Comey against bucking protocol and revealing an investigation — much less providing details about it –so close to an election. But Comey has also been battling warring leaks from within his department.
Despite Comey’s latest conclusion, Republicans — including leaders such as House Speaker Paul Ryan, who’s kept Trump at arms’ length — are still seeking to capitalize on questions of Clinton’s credibility.
“Regardless of this decision, the undisputed finding of the FBI’s investigation is that Secretary Clinton put our nation’s secrets at risk,” Ryan said in a statement later Sunday. “Let’s bring the Clinton era to an end by voting for Donald Trump on Tuesday.”
Photo credit: Justin Sullivan