The wild, nauseating ride that is the 2016 election is spiraling into its final days from atop a mountain of controversy created on Friday by FBI Director James Comey.
In a letter to members of Congress that sent the election into a political tailspin, Comey revealed that investigators are now examining hundreds of thousands of emails that may or may not have anything to do with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Since news of the letter broke, the American people are left with more questions than answers just days before the Election Day, on Nov. 8. Below, we’ve attempted to untangle this rat nest of confusion and misinformation before it alters the course of American history.
Wait, I’m just learning about this now. What’s the Comey thing?
Comey’s letter informs Congress that he has to amend his earlier testimony—wherein he said the FBI had finalized its investigation into Clinton’s use private email server during her time as secretary of state because they found new emails that “appear to be pertinent” to their investigation.
Here’s the full text:
The FBI concluded in July that no criminal charges should be brought against Clinton or her staff despite their “extremely careless” handling of classified information.
In a letter to FBI staff obtained by the Washington Post, Comey explained why he sent the letter:
“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. At the same time, however, given that we don’t know the significance of this newly discovered collection of emails, I don’t want to create a misleading impression. In trying to strike that balance, in a brief letter and in the middle of an election season, there is significant risk of being misunderstood, but I wanted you to hear directly from me about it.”
OK, so what’s in the emails?
Not even the FBI knows for sure—and we’re not likely to find out before Election Day: Investigators are reportedly sifting through a whopping 650,000 messages found on the laptop.
What we do know is that the “unrelated case” Comey mentioned in the letter is its investigation into whether disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner had an illegal relationship with an underage girl.
Uh, how is Anthony Weiner involved in all this?
Weiner is the husband of Huma Abedine, a longtime top aide to Clinton. The emails were found on a laptop used by Abedine and Weiner, who have since separated.
So, these emails were sent over Clinton’s email server?
It’s not clear whether they were sent or received by Clinton or involve the private server at all. Nor is it clear that these emails are different from the ones the FBI already reviewed. (If they are the same emails, we may know so before the election.)
What you’re saying is, we don’t really know anything.
How are the campaigns reacting?
Clinton condemned Comey’s decision to send the letter just 11 days before the end of the election and called for “the FBI to release all the information that it has” at a press conference on Friday. “Let’s get it out,” she said.
Donald Trump, Clinton’s Republican challenger who has been calling for Clinton’s imprisonment for months, was downright giddy. “Perhaps, finally, justice will be done,” he told a crowd in New Hampshire. Despite this, the Trump campaign will not focus on the FBI’s look at the emails in the final week of the election, according to campaign manager Kellyanne Conway.
That can’t be the only fallout from this…
Not even close. The Clinton campaign got nearly 100 former federal prosecutors to sign a letter condemning Comey’s actions; former Attorney General Eric Holder penned a Washington Post op-ed calling Comey a “good man” who made a “serious mistake” in what he deemed a “stunning breach of protocol”; and University of Wisconsin professor Richard Painter, who served as former President George W. Bush’s top ethics lawyer, filed a complaint with the FBI’s Office of Special Counsel arguing that Comey violated the Hatch Act, which forbids U.S. government officials from interfering in elections.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid also said Comey may have violated the Hatch Act, in a letter to congressional committee chairs, because FBI investigators knew about the new emails several weeks ago and Comey only just revealed that fact to the American public.
Hold up—Comey may have broken the law?
Maybe! This is another one of those questions we won’t know the answer to anytime soon.
Will this whole debacle affect the outcome of the election?
Probably not—but that’s still a possibility. A Politico/Morning Consult poll released Monday found that the race had tightened, with Clinton ahead three points over Trump—a relatively small drop from the week before. However, an ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll found that people now dislike Clinton as much as they dislike Trump.
That said, some 22 million people have already voted, and the numbers have good signs for both Clinton and Trump.
In other words: Sorry, America, we’re going to have to stay on the edge of our seats through Election Day.