Justice Dept. warned FBI against letter on Clinton emails
© Getty Images

FBI Director James Comey went against the wishes of Attorney General Loretta Lynch when he sent a letter to lawmakers Friday notifying them that the agency was reviewing new emails “pertinent” to the investigation into Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHarris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign Nevada Senate passes bill that would give Electoral College votes to winner of national popular vote 2020 Dems break political taboos by endorsing litmus tests MORE’s private email server.

A government official who requested anonymity to discuss the matter told The Hill that the Justice Department’s stance was to abstain from taking any actions that could impact the presidential race.

ADVERTISEMENT

“The AG’s position is consistent with the department’s position not to take investigative steps that would influence an election so close to an election and to not comment on ongoing investigations. Director Comey decided to operate independently of that guidance by sending that letter to the Hill.”

The official said that while Lynch and Comey did not discuss the matter directly, “the position of the department was made clear to the FBI.”

It has long been the policy to avoid wading into presidential elections.

“Law enforcement officers and prosecutors may never select the timing of investigative steps or criminal charges for the purpose of affecting any election, or for the purpose of giving an advantage or disadvantage to any candidate or political party,” a 2012 memo from former Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderEric Holder: 'There are grounds for impeachment' in Mueller report Prosecutor appointed by Barr poised to enter Washington firestorm Dems struggle to make Trump bend on probes MORE read. “Such a purpose is inconsistent with the Department's mission and with the Principles of Federal Prosecution.”

In a note to staffers that preceded his letter to Congress, Comey wrote: “Of course, we don’t ordinarily tell Congress about ongoing investigations, but here I feel I also think it would be misleading to the American people were we not to supplement the record."

Comey has taken heat from both sides of the aisle for not giving enough information about the new developments in the Clinton case. He said only that FBI was reviewing additional emails found through an unrelated investigation.

Some Republicans, particularly GOP nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpFeinstein, Iranian foreign minister had dinner amid tensions: report The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Harris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign MORE, jumped on the letter as evidence that the FBI was reopening its investigation and may revisit its decision to not recommend charges against Clinton. 

Democrats blasted Comey for not being forthcoming in his letter, leaving the door open for innuendo about the investigation from Clinton’s detractors.

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinFeinstein, Iranian foreign minister had dinner amid tensions: report Jeffrey Rosen officially sworn in as deputy attorney general This week: Democrats, White House set for infrastructure, budget talks MORE (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, called Comey’s move “appalling.”

“Without knowing how many emails are involved, who wrote them, when they were written or their subject matter, it’s impossible to make any informed judgment on this development,” Feinstein said in a statement Friday.

“However, one thing is clear: Director Comey’s announcement played right into the political campaign of Donald Trump, who is already using the letter for political purposes. And all of this just 11 days before the election.”