WASHINGTON — FBI officials are unlikely to finish their review of new emails potentially related to the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private server before the November 8 election.
Officials are constantly meeting and debating whether there’s any more room for them to add clarity without further harming the situation. The initial work of cataloging top Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s emails found on her estranged husband Anthony Weiner’s laptop could be done in the next few days, US law enforcement officials told CNN.
But the investigators are expected to spend more time doing other work, including likely coordinating with other federal agencies to determine what — if any — classified materials are in the emails. This makes it unlikely there will be a resolution prior to the election.
FBI Director James Comey’s decision to notify lawmakers of the review Friday is rocking the final days of the presidential race. Clinton’s surrogates along with three former attorneys general have blasted Comey for violating FBI protocol designed to keep the bureau away from election-year politics.
The investigators are using software comparable to a specialized search engine at FBI facilities in Quantico, Virginia, to try to isolate emails on Weiner’s computer that could be pertinent to the Clinton email-server investigation, the law enforcement officials said. Some of that work was done earlier this month when agents conducting the Weiner investigation stumbled on the Abedin emails.
After that work is done, investigators will examine the emails they believe are relevant to the Clinton investigation to see if they contain classified information and, if so, whether the individuals who sent or received the emails knew the information was classified.
FBI officials also believe it’s possible that investigators might have to conduct another interview with Abedin and others.
Officials say they are providing all the necessary resources to streamline the process given the sense of urgency so close to the election.
“We are very aware of the pressure on us,” one law enforcement official told CNN. “This is not a resource problem.”
In a letter to congressional Democrats Monday, Assistant Attorney General Peter J. Kadzik wrote Monday that the Justice Department is moving as quickly as possible.
“We assure you that the Department will continue to work closely with the FBI and together, dedicate all necessary resources and take appropriate steps as expeditiously as possible,” Kadzik wrote.
Officials say it’s unlikely the public will hear from FBI Director James Comey until it is more clear about the substance of the pertinent emails, the officials said.
Comey is under fire from Democrats in the wake of his Friday disclosure to lawmakers that the FBI is once again looking into emails potentially tied to its Clinton investigation.
Clinton’s campaign, sensing political danger, is calling on Comey to immediately release more information about the emails.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Monday that Comey had meant to transparently disclose information by sending the letter — but “clearly it had the opposite of the intended effect.”
Comey’s revelation left many unanswered questions about the content of the emails and how they could be related to Clinton, at a particularly politically sensitive time for the Democratic nominee eight days out from the election.
Former US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, a Republican, on Monday slammed Comey, saying his letter was an “error in judgment.”
“You don’t comment on investigations because commenting on the investigation may jeopardize the investigation. And that’s the box that he’s put himself in, because people are now calling for more information — for release of the emails,” Gonzales told CNN’s John Berman and Kate Bolduan on “At This Hour.”
Gonzales, who served in the George W. Bush administration, said Comey wouldn’t have been misleading voters by withholding the news until after November 8.
“If you delay the announcement, hopefully it’s not going to jeopardize an investigation, it’s not going to jeopardize the pursuit of justice, and voters will have the opportunity to vote on Election Day without information that may in fact be incomplete or untrue,” he said.
Eric Holder, the attorney general during much of President Barack Obama’s administration, called Comey’s action “incorrect” in The Washington Post on Monday.
“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,” Holder wrote.
“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.”
Despite the backlash, Comey stands by his decision and believes he did the right thing, according to a source familiar with Comey’s thinking. In Comey’s view, he was faced with two bad options: Not be upfront with Congress and risk the news leaking out or violating DOJ protocol and living up to his word to Congress to provide any updates related to the investigation.
He chose the lesser of the two bad choices in his mind.
“He’s doing okay,” the source said.