The biggest loser because of the letter announcing that the FBI is looking into Clinton’s emails seems to be the man who sent the letter, FBI Director James Comey. And the criticism is non-partisan.
Richard Painter, the chief White House ethics lawyer under Dubya (and needless to say a Republican), has filed a complaint against the FBI for violating the Hatch Act, which prohibits government workers from unnecessarily influencing an election. Painter says that Comey abused his power.
Indeed, according to Fox News, Comey admitted publicly that he felt he had to send the letter because Clinton was running for president. It sure looks like he was deliberately trying to influence the election (and note that you are in violation of the Hatch Act even if you weren’t deliberately trying to influence the election).
Three former attorney generals, including two who served George W Bush, have condemned Comey. Comey was the deputy attorney general under Alberto Gonzales in the Bush adminstration. Gonzales said Comey’s actions were an “error in judgement” and that he is “somewhat perplexed about what the director was trying to accomplish here.” Comey’s actions were also criticized by Michael Mukasey, who served Dubya after Gonzales.
Obama’s former attorney general Eric Holder said Comey’s actions were a “stunning breach” of law enforcement protocol:
I served with Jim Comey, and I know him well. This is a very difficult piece for me to write. He is a man of integrity and honor. I respect him. But good men make mistakes. In this instance, he has committed a serious error with potentially severe implications. It is incumbent upon him — or the leadership of the department — to dispel the uncertainty he has created before Election Day. It is up to the director to correct his mistake — not for the sake of a political candidate or campaign but in order to protect our system of justice and best serve the American people.
Comey was also condemned by former prosecutors and Justice Department officials. One former US attorney said “Director Comey acted totally inappropriately. He had no business writing to Congress about supposed new emails that neither he nor anyone in the FBI has ever reviewed.” At least 100 former Justice Department officials signed a letter condemning Comey’s actions, and more than 30 former state attorneys general (from both parties) signed a similar letter, saying that Comey had made a “serious mistake”.
Probably the most surprising condemnation of Comey came from Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro, who is a former prosecutor, judge, and Republican elected official from the state of New York. Pirro said on her show that Comey “disgraces and politicizes the FBI and is symptomatic of all that is wrong in Washington.”
Comey’s actions violate not only long-standing Justice Department policy, the directive of the person that he works under, the attorney general. But even more important, the most fundamental rules of fairness and impartiality.
Pirro’s anger comes from personal experience. When she was running for NY attorney general in 2006, the FBI and the Justice Department announced that they were opening an investigation of her. Pirro says it was “mean-spirited and, of course, nothing came of it, except the adverse publicity cost me at the polls. What was done to me in 2006 was wrong, and what happened to Hillary Clinton [Friday], was equally wrong.”
But it could even be worse than that. The FBI may have violated the constitution by conducting an illegal search:
If the laptop was “seized” by the FBI, it’s unlikely that either Weiner or Abedin voluntarily turned over the emails. That means the agency needed to get a search warrant, by swearing to a judge there was probable cause to believe that data on the laptop contained evidence of the suspected “sexting” crime. Under the Constitution, the warrant should have specified exactly the information to be seized and searched, and thereby limited the FBI from looking through the entire contents of the laptop.
Indeed, why were federal agents looking at any emails belonging to the suspect’s estranged spouse? Surely the FBI didn’t think Abedin was involved in the alleged sexting crime.
There are other curious things about the letter that make it look deliberately partisan. For example, Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) tweeted about the letter even before Democratic congresspersons received it. Why would Comey favor Republicans by giving them a heads-up?
Not only that, but while the FBI director has made public announcement about their investigation into Clinton, they are also conducting an investigation into Trump’s relationship to Russia, but they have not made any public announcements about that. According to Senator Harry Reid (D-NV):
In my communications with you and other top officials in the national security community, it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and co-ordination between Donald Trump, his top advisers, and the Russian government – a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States, which Trump praises at every opportunity.
Indeed, Comey himself argued against disclosing the Russian investigation because it was too close to the presidential election, and removed the FBI’s name from the report. So why did the FBI feel it had to publicly talk about the Clinton investigation, but not about a far more serious investigation into Trump? Why is the FBI being partisan?
And in the end, there is evidence that the release of the letter isn’t actually changing many votes. So the only loser may be Comey. I suspect that he may soon resign.