New emails related to Clinton case: What you need to know
As questions continue to swirl around the FBI's announcement that it may have uncovered new emails connected to its investigation of Hillary Clinton's private email server, some facts have begun to emerge.
The Justice Department informed six members of Congress Monday that investigators will take “appropriate steps as expeditiously as possible” and "dedicate all necessary resources" to the case, but it provided no other additional details.
What do we know so far? A few things:
WHAT IS THIS ALL ABOUT?
Rewind to January 2009. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton decides to use her personal email address on a private server for all of her business correspondences. Over the next four years, she sends and receives tens of thousands of messages, some of which are later found to contain classified information.
After the use of the server was revealed in 2015, the FBI conducted a year-long investigation of the handling of classified information by Clinton and her staff. FBI Director James Comey announced in July that the investigation did not find enough evidence of wrongdoing to support criminal charges.
Comey took the unusual step of publicly defending that conclusion at a press conference and in congressional hearings. The FBI also released hundreds of pages of documents that would not normally be made public. He still faced allegations of corruption from Republicans who insisted Clinton was receiving special treatment.
In his appearances before Congress, Comey left open the possibility that the case could be reexamined if new evidence emerged, and he promised to keep lawmakers updated if anything changed. Last week, possible new evidence emerged and something changed.
IS THIS ALL ANTHONY WEINER’S FAULT?
The former congressman’s latest sexting scandal prompted an FBI inquiry after he allegedly sent illicit texts to a 15-year-old girl. In the course of examining electronic devices for evidence related to that probe in early October, agents uncovered metadata suggesting that emails on one laptop may have come from Hillary Clinton’s private server.
The laptop was reportedly used by both Weiner and his wife, Clinton aide Huma Abedin. Abedin had testified under oath in civil litigation that she turned over all devices and emails to investigators, but she reportedly was unaware there were messages on this computer.
WHAT HAPPENED FRIDAY?
FBI Director Comey sent a letter to Republican committee chairs and ranking Democrats Friday informing them that emails that may be pertinent to the Clinton inquiry were found in the course of an unrelated investigation. He had approved investigative steps to evaluate the evidence and determine whether they are relevant.
Comey wrote that he does not know how long it will take to review this material, but he felt it was important to send the letter because he had promised to apprise members of any developments.
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THESE EMAILS?
Not much. Comey’s letter is extraordinarily vague, saying only that some emails might in some way be pertinent to the Clinton investigation. According to the Wall Street Journal, thousands of messages found on the device may have been sent to or from Clinton’s server, but absent a warrant, investigators have not actually looked at them yet.
It is unknown how many related messages there are, whether any came from Clinton, whether they contain classified information, and whether they could alter the conclusions the FBI reached in the case earlier this year.
WHY DID COMEY DO THIS?
In a note to FBI employees Friday, Comey explained that he felt it was necessary to reveal the information to avoid misleading Congress and the American people.
“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, acknowledging that there is a risk of his actions being misunderstood.
Comey also reportedly believed that agents working on the case would leak that new Clinton-related emails had surfaced if he did not reveal it himself, potentially leading to fresh allegations of corruption and cover-ups.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
CNN reported Sunday that the FBI has now obtained a warrant to review the emails on the computer. Investigators will now look at the messages to determine which ones are related to Clinton’s server, how many are duplicates of existing messages, and whether any of them justify pursuing criminal charges in the case.
If it turns out very few are relevant or most are duplicates, the review could be done in days. If anything needs to be assessed for classified material, it could take much longer.
WHY IS COMEY BEING CRITICIZED?
Although Democrats are understandably furious that this could hurt Clinton’s campaign, the criticism has been unusually bipartisan. Even vocal Clinton opponents like Jeanine Pirro and Joe Walsh have said Comey’s behavior was unfair to her.
FBI guidelines recommend not taking investigative actions at a time when it could influence an election. The agency also generally does not comment on ongoing investigations. Comey’s announcement clearly violates both of those standards, although he would argue it was necessary under the circumstances and some have said it was the best of many bad options he had.
The timing of his letter and its ambiguity has led many former DOJ and FBI officials to speak out against Comey. His letter acknowledges the emails may not ultimately be significant, but by saying what he did before investigators even review them and not providing any other information, he has made it difficult for the Clinton campaign to defend against the resulting speculation and innuendo.
Some Democrats have taken the criticism significantly further. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) suggested Comey violated the Hatch Act by acting to influence the election and Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) is demanding that Comey resign.
DOES THIS HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH WIKILEAKS?
The nearly-daily drops of hacked emails taken from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s account have been an embarrassing distraction for her staff, and the various email-related controversies surrounding her tend to blur together. Nothing relevant to this apparent stash of emails on Weiner’s computer has come out of the messages posted by WikiLeaks so far, tough.
WikiLeaks emails have revealed how blindsided some Clinton staffers were by the private server issue. Podesta and campaign manager Robby Mook clearly did not recognize the scale of the problem it would ultimately cause, and the team struggled to come up with sufficient responses to questions they were getting about it.
WHAT ELSE HAS THE FBI BEEN UP TO?
Quite a bit, it seems.
As Comey feared, the FBI has sprung many, many leaks as more questions are being asked about the agency’s recent conduct. Among the details revealed tothe Wall Street Journal was the fact that agents in some FBI offices have been pushing for an investigation of the Clinton Foundation for a while.
CNN has previously reported on stymied efforts to probe the family’s charity, but articles posted Sunday dug deeper into that conflict. According to the Wall Street Journal, the New York field office and others wanted to investigate potential conflicts of interest and corruption, partly based on news reports claiming donors got special treatment from the State Department.
Officials at the DOJ reportedly concluded the case was not strong enough and refused to authorize more aggressive investigative methods. According to the Journal, some lower level FBI agents claimed they were later ordered to stand down.
WHAT IS DONALD TRUMP SAYING?
“Thank you, Huma,” he said at a rally Monday. “Good job, Huma. Thank you, Anthony Weiner.”
After months of claiming the FBI investigation was rigged and questioning Comey’s integrity, Trump has suddenly begun praising the FBI director, claiming this is Comey’s chance to correct the mistake he made in July.
“He’s gotta hang tough. A lot of people want him to do the wrong thing. What he did was the right thing,” Trump said Monday, clearly indicating that if Comey again finds no evidence to support a criminal case, that will be the wrong thing.
Trump suggested this is “the mother lode” containing the 30,000 emails that Clinton deleted after her attorneys determined they were personal. There is no evidence that this is true at this point.
DOES ANY OF THIS MATTER TO VOTERS?
It’s too early to tell but initial indications are that it might not.
Two polls conducted entirely after Friday’s news have found little to no shift in support for Clinton. Several polls have also shown that a vast majority of voters say the new email revelations will not impact their vote.
In a close race, however, a small percentage could still change everything.
“I think it’ll have a peripheral reinforcing impact,” said Tom Sutton, a professor of political science at Baldwin Wallace University in Ohio. It will harden the positions of supporters of both candidates, and it might tip some undecided voters toward Trump. Mostly, though, it is just another reminder of the email scandal that has plagued Clinton throughout her campaign.
“It’s an extension of an existing story, not a new story,” he said.