Comey did what he had to do
Because his sworn testimony to Congress was that there were no more emails to investigate, he had an obligation to amend that when new information came to light. He is not “reopening” an investigation that was never formally closed, but adding information that he was sworn to do, regardless of the timing. Imagine if he had waited until after the election and it came to light that he sat on new disclosures. He is taking heat from all sides, which indicates he is doing the right thing, as Benjamin Wittes notes at lawfareblog.
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When the FBI wants to say it is reopening an investigation, it knows perfectly well how to say that. In this case, the investigation was actually never formally closed, so it doesn’t need to be reopened. The relevance of this letter is thus likely not that some explosive new evidence of Clinton criminality has suddenly emerged.
It is, rather, that Comey made a set of representations to Congress that have been complicated by new information, apparently from the Anthony Weiner sexting case. So he’s informing Congress of that fact before the election.
Comey represented to Congress that the Clinton email investigation was “complete.” But as the letter relates, new emails have now come to the bureau’s attention that appears relevant to the email investigation. (Weiner’s estranged wife is one Clinton’s top aides.) Comey has okayed a review of that new information to determine whether the emails contain classified material and also whether they are, in fact, relevant. And this fact renders his prior statement to Congress no longer true.
The key point here, in other words, is not that Comey is “reopening” a closed matter because of some bombshell. It is that he is amending his public testimony to Congress that the FBI is done while the bureau examines new material that may or may not have implications for investigative conclusions previously reached…
The interesting question is whether the FBI’s predicament is Comey’s own fault. It’s certainly not his fault that the email mess fell into his lap and had to be investigated in the year of an election. Nor is it his fault that the the FBI ended up investigating the DNC hack and whatever trouble Weiner has gotten himself into of late. Reasonable minds will differ, however, about whether Comey leaned too far forward in publicly disclosing information about his thinking on the email case. He can be criticized for having said and disclosed too much and thereby made his problem worse.
But what you can’t reasonably say is that Comey has been anyone’s political lackey. Over the howling objections of many Republicans, he ended the Clinton email investigation, concluding that “no reasonable prosecutor” would go forward with a case. Over the snarls of the Clinton forces, at the same time, he commented quite disparagingly about the behavior of the woman who is likely to become his boss. And now, with the election only days away, he has amended his prior resolution of the case to deal with new information.
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