Just over a week after FBI Director James Comey dropped a bombshell into the presidential race by revealing newly-found evidence in the Hillary Clinton email probe, he offered what amounted to a “never mind” Sunday, notifying Congress that the newly-discovered messages wouldn’t change the bureau’s conclusion that no prosecution of Clinton was warranted.
In a letter sent to House and Senate committee leaders, Comey said FBI agents had completed their review of all messages to or from Clinton on a laptop seized last month from the estranged husband of a Clinton aide and had found nothing momentous.
“Based on our review, we have not changed our conclusions that we expressed in July with respect to Secretary Clinton,” Comey wrote. “I am very grateful to the professionals at the FBI for doing an extraordinary amount of high-quality work in a short-period of time.”
The disclosure, just two days before Election Day, could undercut a boost Donald Trump appeared to enjoy in some polls taken after Comey’s disclosure late last month about the newly-discovered set of email messages.
But millions of voters have already cast mail-in, absentee or early voting ballots and it’s unclear how many of the remaining voters will absorb news of Comey’s latest announcement, which came less than 48 hours before polls open for traditional, in-person voting.
Clinton’s campaign immediately tried to capitalize on the news, claiming that Comey’s latest missive put to rest any new concerns about the email issue.
“We’re glad this matter is resolved,” Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri said.
Comey threw the presidential contest into an uproar and unleashed a firestorm of criticism from inside and outside his own ranks after he told Congress on Oct. 28 that he’d instructed investigators to take steps to examine new evidence in the Clinton email probe. It soon emerged that the new evidence was a trove of email messages found on a laptop the FBI obtained during a probe into alleged sexting with a minor by former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), the estranged husband of longtime Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
Top Justice Department officials, including Attorney General Loretta Lynch, counseled Comey against sending the letter. They warned that doing so violated a Justice Department tradition of not taking such politically sensitive steps in the 60 days before an election. But he decided to send the mess
Among those who joined in the chorus of criticism of Comey was President Barack Obama.
“I do think that there is a norm that when there are investigations, we don’t operate on innuendo and we don’t operate on incomplete information and we don’t operate on leaks,” Obama said in an interview last week with “NowThis News.” “We operate based on concrete decisions that are made.”
A Justice Department spokesman issued a brief statement on Sunday afternoon, saying only, “The Department of Justice and the FBI dedicated all necessary resources to conduct this review expeditiously.”
Comey’s October letter also seemed to trigger a wave of leaks from inside the FBI, chiefly from agents angry about the initial decision to recommend no prosecution of Clinton and about various reported decisions by the Justice Department not to broaden inquiries into alleged corruption involving the Clinton Foundation.
Trump seized on Comey’s original letter to lawmakers as proof of Clinton’s corruption, and he warned voters that the former secretary of state would likely be found guilty soon after taking office.
The Republican nominee in late October heaped praise on Comey after he sent word to Congress of the renewed investigation.
“It took guts for Director Comey to make the move that he made, in light of the kind of opposition he had, where they’re trying to protect her from criminal prosecution,” he told a Michigan rally on Oct. 31. “He’s gotta hang tough. A lot of people want him to do the wrong thing. What he did was the right thing.”
Just after the news broke Sunday, Trump took the stage at a rally in Minnesota and did not mention the FBI probe specifically, as he has done at most of his recent appearances. However, the GOP nominee accused Clinton of committing “many crimes” that have spurred investigations “likely concluding in a criminal trial.”
Trump also returned to his familiar accusations that the system is rigged in Clinton’s favor.
“You have to understand it’s a rigged system and she’s protected,” he said.
The latest FBI disclosure also set off skirmishing on Twitter between Clinton and Trump partisans.
“We were always confident nothing would cause the July decision to be revisited. Now Director Comey has confirmed it,” Clinton campaign press secretary Brian Fallon wrote.
Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway highlighted a kind of rhetorical whiplash from Clinton allies, who vouched for Comey’s integrity when he announced no plans for charges but savaged him when he disclosed the renewal of the investigation just over a week ago.
“Then why did you, your colleagues, and your candidate attack Comey and his credibility?” Conway asked.
However, in an interview a short time later, Conway seemed to do her own verbal somersault, appearing to contradict her candidate’s positive statements about Comey in recent days.
“He’s mishandled this investigation from the very beginning,” Conway insisted on MSNBC.
Shane Goldmacher and Annie Karni contributed to this report.
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