FBI Director James Comey has come under a hail of criticism from Democrats, Republicans and government officials for his public announcement on Friday that his agency is re-examining Hillary Clinton’s email investigation 11 days before the election.
Comey’s announcement on Friday — little more than a week before the Nov. 8 presidential election — has shaken the race between Clinton and Donald Trump, and potentially boosted Republican chances to hold its majorities in Congress.
Within 24 hours, Clinton and her top aides, as well as top Republicans and government officials are questioning Comey’s decision in a politically charged environment ahead of a bitter general election.
The strongest criticism has come from Clinton and her campaign, which is struggling to regain its footing.
“It’s not just strange, it’s unprecedented and it is deeply troubling because voters deserve to get the full and complete facts,” said Clinton, speaking at a rally in Daytona, Fla., on Saturday afternoon.
“He owes the public the full story, or else he shouldn’t have cracked open this door to begin with,” said Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook.
On Friday, Comey told lawmakers that the FBI had discovered additional emails relevant to the now closed Clinton email investigation, and that the FBI is examining them for classified information. Since then, different and sometimes conflicting reports have appeared about the number of emails in question, how the emails were recovered and whether any of the emails were sent by Clinton.
“No one can separate what is true from what is not, because Comey has not been forthcoming with the facts,” said Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. “What little Comey has told us makes it hard to understand why this step was warranted at all.”
Comey’s decision to make the announcement publicly came under criticism even before he sent his letter to Congress.
Senior Justice Department officials warned the Comey that a public announcement to renew the investigation into Clinton’s emails would break with long-standing practices of the department, according to several news outlets.
Justice officials told Comey that “we don’t comment on an ongoing investigation. And we don’t take steps that will be viewed as influencing an election,” one unnamed Justice official told the Washington Post. “He is operating independently of the Justice Department. And he knows it.”
“There’s a long-standing policy of not doing anything that could influence an election,” George J. Terwilliger III, a deputy attorney general under the first President George Bush, told the New York Times. “Those guidelines exist for a reason. Sometimes that makes for hard decisions. But bypassing them has consequences.”
Republican lawmakers demanded more information from the FBI. “The letter from Director Comey was unsolicited and, quite honestly, surprising. But it’s left a lot more questions than answers for both the FBI and Secretary Clinton,” Senator Chuck Grassley said in a statement. “Congress and the public deserve more context to properly assess what evidence the FBI has discovered and what it plans to do with it.”
The fallout from Comey’s decision has been accompanied by numerous leaks from FBI officials about the nature of the emails that were discovered. The additional emails were found as part of an unrelated investigation into former Congressman Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin, according to reports, who allegedly sent lewd photos to a minor.
Comey, a respected law-enforcement veteran who was a registered Republican and served under George W. Bush as Deputy Attorney General before becoming FBI Director under President Obama in 2013, has been criticized before as a result of the Clinton email investigation.
In July, Comey gave a highly unusual press conference explaining his decision not to press charges against Clinton for using a private email server during her time as Secretary of State. Democrats praised Comey at the time for being forthright while some Republicans blasted him, suggesting he was succumbing to pressure from Clinton.
Trump has said for months that Comey’s decision not to recommend charges against Clinton was “rigged,” but on Friday, he exulted.
“As you know I’ve had plenty of words about the FBI lately, but I give them great credit for having the courage to right this horrible wrong. Justice will prevail,” Trump said on Friday.
Clinton, meanwhile, called on the FBI to release the information that it had.
“We are 11 days out from perhaps the most important national election in our lifetimes. Voting is already under way in our country,” Clinton said. “So the American people deserve to get the full and complete facts immediately. [Comey] himself has said he doesn’t know whether emails referenced in his letter are significant or not. I’m confident, whatever they are, will not change the conclusion reached in July.”