FBI Director James B. Comey listens to a question from a reporter during a media conference in San Francisco, Calif., Feb. 27, 2014. 
Photo by Ben Margot/AP

Letter from FBI’s Comey causes widespread freak-out

Updated
With just 11 days remaining until Election Day, and millions of votes already cast, is there anything new that can push the political world towards a complete freak-out? Of course there is: interest in Hillary Clinton’s email-server management is back on the front page.
The FBI is reviewing a new batch of Hillary Clinton emails, bureau director James Comey said in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday. […]

The politically-explosive revelation, which came just 11 days before Election Day, appeared to catch the Clinton campaign by surprise.
Some of the headlines this afternoon have said the case against Clinton has been “re-opened,” and while that’s the phrasing Republicans are pushing, that’s not quite what Comey’s letter says.

In fact, part of the problem with today’s apoplexy is that Comey’s brief, three-paragraph letter doesn’t offer much in the way of clarity. In the first paragraph, for example, the FBI director alerted several congressional committee chairs that he’s “supplementing” previous testimony.

In the second paragraph, Comey added, “In connection with an unrelated case, the FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation…. I agreed that the FBI should take appropriate investigative steps designed to allow investigators to review these emails to determine whether they contain classified information, as well as to assess their importance to our investigation.”

And in the third paragraph, the bureau’s Republican director concluded that the FBI “cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant,” and Comey “cannot predict how long it will take” for the bureau to complete its work.

If you’re counting on some kind of resolution in the next 11 days, you’re likely to be disappointed.

And while a vague letter – at this stage, from the director of the FBI, about this “controversy” – is inherently problematic because it practically encourages baseless speculation, additional reporting on the matter suggests the freak-out may not be entirely warranted.

Let’s do a little Q&A:

Did the FBI re-open the investigation into Clinton’s server?

No. In fact, technically, that review was never closed.

Are we talking about emails that Clinton and/or her team withheld from investigators?

Apparently not. NBC News’ Brian Williams, among several others, reports that the messages in question weren’t withheld and are unrelated to the stolen emails published by Wikileaks.

Does this pertain to emails from Clinton’s server?

According to multiple press accounts, no.

Are the emails in question from Clinton herself?

According to multiple press accounts, including NBC News, no.

So, what’s this “unrelated case” Comey referred to?

According to the New York Times, this refers to Anthony Weiner – remember him? – who’s facing scrutiny for allegedly sexting with a minor, and the FBI collecting electronic devices belonging to him and Clinton aide Huma Abedin.

If the reporting is accurate, the emails weren’t from Clinton, weren’t withheld, and weren’t from her server, why has the political world spent the afternoon running around with its hair on fire?

I’ll leave it to others to speculate.

Isn’t it kind of funny that three of the angles to the 2016 campaign that are proving to generate the most discussion – Donald Trump’s alleged sexual misconduct, Bill Clinton’s alleged sexual misconduct, and Anthony Weiner’s alleged sexual misconduct – all have something in common?

I’m not sure “funny” is the right word for it.

Update: The Brookings Institution’ Ben Wittes has a good piece on the story this afternoon, noting among other things, “The relevance of this letter [from Comey] is likely not that explosive new evidence of Clinton criminality has suddenly emerged.”



Anthony Weiner, FBI, Hillary Clinton, Huma Abedin and James Comey

Letter from FBI's Comey causes widespread freak-out

Updated