Earlier this week, FBI director James Comey leapt headfirst into a world of controversy, criticism, and allegations that the bureau has interfered in the 2016 presidential race in its 11th hour. After clearing Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton of any potential criminal charges over her use of a private email server while Secretary of State back in July, albeit with a number of pointed, stern criticisms of her email practices, Comey reignited the controversy on Friday by sending a letter to Congress indicating that new Clinton-related emails were under FBI review.
As it’s since been reported, the FBI has scant knowledge of what’s actually in the emails, which were discovered on a laptop belonging to disgraced former New York congressman Anthony Weiner in an investigation into his alleged sexually explicit chats with a 15-year-old girl. The laptop was reportedly also used by his now-estranged wife and top Clinton supporter Huma Abedin.
Needless to say, the presence of the emails (which Comey said the bureau believed to be “pertinent” to the Clinton investigation even though the bureau hadn’t yet read any of them) has thrown a chaotic subplot into the last several days of the race. And it doesn’t sounds like things are going to be getting any clearer.
Throughout the weekend, one of the defenses of Comey’s letter both suggestive of some kind of impactful new development, yet entirely vague on any specifics―seems to have fallen away. Namely, that he had to get the information out there to avoid any perception of impropriety, because the email review would probably be starting post-haste.
But now, thanks to a significant bit of information Fox News anchor Bret Baier revealed on Sunday morning, it’s worth wondering whether that warrant will ever come. According to two FBI sources, as Baier tweeted, Weiner is cooperating with the investigation, meaning a warrant might arguably not be necessary to review the relevant emails.
On the other hand, according to CNN, FBI investigators say that the subpoena that allowed for a search of Weiner’s computer include anything regarding Abedin’s emails, and therefore they believe a warrant is indeed necessary. That does raise the question, however, of how the FBI came to suspect there might be emails on the computer relevant to the Clinton case in the first place.
NBC News’ Pete Williams reported Sunday that Comey is unlikely to say anything more about the case until after the election, which countless Democrats probably wish is the strategy he’d taken from the get-go. In short, assuming the FBI doesn’t review the emails and either conclusively announce that there’s nothing new or relevant, or announce that there is, the awkward, politically loaded middle-ground the Clinton campaign currently sits in will continue clear through to Election Day.
This is precisely what the Clinton campaign doesn‘t want: a glaring, incriminating-seeming headline about a new email investigation without any further information to contextualize and possibly mitigate the political harm. And with CNN reporting on Sunday morning that the FBI still hadn’t even sought the warrant yet, a full 48 hours after Comey’s disclosure, to say there are more questions than answers right now is something of an understatement.
Comey himself is facing some harsh scrutiny from Democrats as well as a former Republican official. Former Bush administration ethics lawyer Richard Painter has filed a complaint accusing the FBI of violating the Hatch Act, which forbids some forms of governmental interference in the outcome of elections. Suffice to say, this story will probably still be churning by the time Nov. 8th rolls around. Election Day is currently just nine days away.
Update 4:27pm CT, Oct. 30: Looks like the FBI got that warrant after all.