National Security

FBI under fire from all sides

FBI Director James Comey is facing backlash in both parties for his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, casting a cloud over his future. 

His decision on Sunday to once again not recommend charges related to Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as secretary of State puts him in the unenviable position of having little to show for an enormously controversial decision. 

Comey on Oct. 28 made the stunning announcement that the FBI was reviewing new emails tied to the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private server, enraging Democrats who accused him of meddling in the presidential election. Then, on Sunday afternoon, just two days before voters headed to the polls, Comey quickly ended the review without pressing charges, infuriating the GOP.

{mosads}Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump had called for an indictment against Clinton, the Democratic standard-bearer, for mishandling classified information, which has now been denied twice.

Clinton, meanwhile, blasted Comey’s decision to make the matter public in the first place, arguing there was not enough information to warrant the disclosure so close to Election Day.

Now both sides are left questioning the integrity of the bureau and a director who is supposed to continue on for another six years no matter who wins the White House on Tuesday.

Trump, who days ago was cheering the FBI’s “courage to right the horrible mistake they made” this summer, on Sunday cast doubt on whether FBI investigators would have been able to comb through the hundreds of thousands of newfound emails in just over a week.

“Right now she is being protected by a rigged system,” the businessman said Sunday evening in a rally in Michigan. “You can’t review 650,000 new emails in eight days. You can’t do it, folks.”

“Hillary Clinton is guilty,” Trump added. “She knows it; the FBI knows it; the people know it. And now it is up to the American people to deliver justice at the ballot box on Nov. 8.” 

Clinton’s campaign declined to trumpet Comey’s latest statement, simply saying it’s glad the matter is resolved. Clinton herself did not mention the development during her rallies on Sunday.

The former first lady and her allies were far more outspoken one week ago, in the aftermath of Comey’s bombshell letter stating that the bureau had discovered hundreds of thousands of emails that “appear to be pertinent to the investigation” into possible mishandling of classified information.

They suggested Comey was willfully interfering in the presidential campaign by giving notice of the discovery before any conclusions had been reached.

Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) — who next year are expected to be the top-ranking Democrats in Congress — each suggested they had lost faith in the FBI chief’s ability to perform his job.

Even President Obama scolded Comey, saying last week that criminal investigations “don’t operate on innuendo.”

Comey decamped to Capitol Hill multiple times over the summer to explain his decision not to recommend charges against Clinton, even though he described her email setup as “extremely careless.”

Even before Comey’s announcement on Sunday, speculation was rife that he or other senior officials would be called to testify before Congress again, this time to explain the unusual announcement about a new development in the case. 

“I’m on the Judiciary Committee. I’m sure we will have hearings,” Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday morning.

“I’m sure that FBI Director Comey will be before us. And I think he should answer questions about this. And he should be able to control the FBI.”

A new hearing into the matter seems all but assured.

Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) criticized Comey’s “vague announcement” on Sunday, which he said failed to answer outstanding questions about the Clinton investigation. 

“The growing number of unanswered questions demand explanations,” Grassley said, noting several details about the FBI’s probe that remain unknown, including its scope, whether search warrants were used and whether the new emails are still under review.

“Answers to these questions would provide greater context of the FBI’s investigation and greater assurance to the American people of its thoroughness.” 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), meanwhile, called for the Justice Department to launch an internal review into the saga “to prevent similar actions that could influence future elections.” 

The last 10 days have been among the most publicly tumultuous for the FBI in recent memory.

Anonymous officials speaking to news outlets have described the Justice Department as a battleground split between warring factions. In the days following the FBI director’s initial letter, officials revealed internal debates in the bureau about how to handle the Clinton Foundation’s connections to the State Department and apparent ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia.

That letter to the FBI in late October appeared to give Trump a boost in the polls, though it’s unclear precisely how big of an impact it had. 

Trump’s campaign cut an ad explicitly referring to the renewed FBI investigation, which it said had “crippled” Clinton.

The renewed scrutiny on Clinton’s most prominent vulnerability likely had some amount of impact among the millions of Americans who cast their votes early.

“Unfortunately, a lot of people have already voted over the last week,” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said on CNN on Sunday. “And also, unfortunately, Donald Trump and his associates have blown this thing up like Director Comey should have known.”

It’s unclear what happens next for Comey.

The FBI chief is in his fourth year of a 10-year term, after having been confirmed on the strength of his reputation as an independent truth-teller. That reputation has been tarnished by the email investigation.

Clinton has declined to say whether she would keep Comey on if she won the White House.

“The future of Director Comey remains so murky that fortune tellers would probably give people their money back rather than try to predict what will occur at this point,” Bradley Moss, a national security lawyer, said in an email to The Hill. 

Still, Moss predicted that, despite the tensions with either a President Clinton or Trump, Comey would stay in office for the next six years.

“He likely would view advising either possible president as a worthy challenge in the aftermath of EmailGate,” Moss said.

Tags Al Franken Charles Schumer Chuck Grassley Dianne Feinstein Donald Trump Hillary Clinton
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