What the FBI Director’s letter about the Clinton emails really says

It’s a good idea to read the letter before you report on it.

FBI Director James Comey CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais Oy.

As of this writing, all three cable news networks are in a frenzy. FBI Director James Comey just sent a letter to Republican congressional committee chairs announcing that he’s taking a new look into Hillary Clinton’s emails. Another investigation! And right before the election! She could be indicted!

Well, probably not. Indeed, almost definitely not. Here’s what the letter actually says:




The relevant paragraph in this brief letter is the middle one, where Comey writes that the FBI “has learned of the existence” of emails that it previously did not review. In response to this new information, the FBI will now “allow investigators to review these emails to determine whether they contain classified information.”

The FBI, in other words, is not reexamining its previous findings. It is not questioning its previous legal conclusion that “no reasonable prosecutor” could determine that charges are warranted. Based on the letter, it appears that the FBI will simply provide the same scrutiny to these newly uncovered emails as it previously applied to the emails it already reviewed when it determined that criminal charges are not warranted.

Though the initial narrative to emerge from this new letter — a narrative pushed by Republican House Oversight Chair Jason Chaffetz — is that the FBI has “reopened” the case against Clinton, several reporters did acknowledge on Twitter that this narrative is not true.

Obviously, this letter raises many questions — not the least of which is why the Republican FBI Director decided to release such an inflammatory letter immediately before the election rather than waiting two weeks. Indeed, even Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the number two Republican in the Senate, appeared surprised by Comey’s timing.

Based on the letter’s actual content, however, there is no reason to believe that the FBI will change its ultimate conclusion that no reasonable prosecutor could bring charges against Clinton.

UPDATE: Additional details have leaked out about the facts underlying Comey’s vague letter.

SECOND UPDATE: Newsweek reports some helpful details about why Comey wrote this letter so close to an election:

Why did FBI Director James Comey shock Washington on Friday with an announcement that the FBI “has learned of the existence of emails” related to Hillary Clinton’s private email server, and what does it mean?

The truth is Comey didn’t have a choice. Because the new information followed his sworn testimony about the case, Comey was obligated by Department of Justice rules to keep the relevant committees apprised.

Under oath Comey had stated that the bureau had completed its review. Once he learned that there were new emails that required examination, Comey had to notify Congress that he had to amend his testimony because it was no longer true.

So what we now know is that Comey delivered this letter, not because the FBI uncovered some new bombshell, but because he was under a legal obligation to do so. We also know that the emails were not from Clinton. Additionally, the AP reports that the emails “did not come from her private server.”

Despite the explosiveness of the initial headlines regarding this letter, the actual substance of the story appears to be shrinking with each new revelation.

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