With less than two weeks before the presidential election, the top official at the FBI notified lawmakers Friday that his agency was investigating a new cache of emails connected to Hillary Clinton because he felt an "obligation to do so" and wanted to avoid "misleading" the American people.
The emails were uncovered after investigators took possession of devices used by Clinton aide Huma Abedin and her now-estranged husband and former congressman Anthony Weiner. FBI Director James Comey then sent a letter to members of Congress notifying lawmakers that the agency was looking into the newly discovered emails.
On Friday evening, the Washington Post and Fox News both obtained an internal FBI memo that further sheds light on why Comey chose to reveal the new email inquiry in the final days of a hotly contested presidential election. In the memo, Comey says he felt "an obligation" to tell Congress about the investigation into the emails because he "testified repeatedly in recent months that our investigation was completed."
"It would be misleading to the American people were we not to supplement the record," the FBI director said.
"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," Comey wrote.
Nevertheless, Comey's decision was fiercely debated. Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta told reporters on Saturday that Comey "owes the American public an explanation."
"I guess he felt the heat enough that he needed to explain himself to the employees of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but his first duty is to the American people," Podesta said in a conference call.
Clinton — seemingly perturbed by not being notified in advance about the investigation — called on the FBI to produce more information.
“We don’t know the facts,” she said at a Friday evening news conference, “which is why we are calling on the FBI to release all the information that it has.”
On Saturday, the Washington Post reported that senior Justice Department officials advised Comey not to go public with the news so close to the election because it was "not consistent with long-standing practices of the department."
Comey was told "that we don’t comment on an ongoing investigation, and we don’t take steps that will be viewed as influencing an election," one official told the Post.
“Director Comey understood our position. He heard it from Justice leadership,” the official said. “It was conveyed to the FBI, and Comey made an independent decision to alert the Hill. He is operating independently of the Justice Department. And he knows it.”
Read the fell text of Comey's memo here:
This morning I sent a letter to Congress in connection with the Secretary Clinton email investigation. Yesterday, the investigative team briefed me on their recommendation with respect to seeking access to emails that have recently been found in an unrelated case. Because those emails appear to be pertinent to our investigation, I agreed that we should take appropriate steps to obtain and review them.
Of course, we don’t ordinarily tell Congress about ongoing investigations, but here I feel an obligation to do so given that I testified repeatedly in recent months that our investigation was completed. 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.