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‘Pertinent to investigation’
The original investigation of Clinton’s email practices when she was secretary of state, particularly her use of a private computer server under her control instead of government networks, appeared to be broadening, according to the announcement by FBI Director James Comey.
Although he had previously chastised Clinton for “extremely careless” handling of email, he said the bureau found no reason to pursue any charges against her. On Friday, Comey said new emails from and about Clinton had surfaced in an unrelated case and they “appear to be pertinent to the investigation.”
Government sources said the new emails emerged when agents were examining devices used by Weiner and his wife in connection with an inquiry into the former congressman’s communications with a 15-year-old girl in North Carolina.
The FBI chief said he could not predict how long it will take to complete the new phase of the investigation, which had always centered on whether Clinton improperly handled classified government information by routing almost all of her email traffic through a private computer server separate from the State Department’s network.
Clinton carried on campaigning Friday without mentioning the FBI announcement, but her campaign manager, John Podesta, challenged Comey’s “extraordinary” statement, which came in a letter written to eight Republican congressmen and senators.
Podesta said Comey “should immediately provide the American public more information,” and added that he is confident that the reopened investigation will clear Clinton of any wrongdoing.
Republican Party leaders rejoiced in what they saw as validation of their repeated complaints about Clinton’s practice of handling government emails in nonstandard fashion.
President Barack Obama brushed off reporters’ questions about the email issue as he left the White House late Friday for an appearance in Florida in support of Clinton and other Democratic Party candidates.
On Capitol Hill, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, said the FBI’s action was long overdue. In a statement, he said the Clinton investigation is “the result of her reckless use of a private email server, and her refusal to be forthcoming with federal investigators.”
In a campaign appearance in Iowa Friday, Clinton said her Republican opponent, Donald Trump, is trying to discourage women, young people, and minorities — the voter blocs most likely to favor Clinton — from going to the polls November 8. She said Trump is mounting a last-ditch scorched earth strategy in a move to stave off defeat.
Trump, who was in New Hampshire, welcomed the FBI’s announcement and said he hopes the bureau would “right the horrible mistake” it made earlier, when Comey said Clinton had been careless with her email but that she would not be prosecuted.
Trump claimed the Clinton email investigation is a scandal “bigger than Watergate,” the political spying effort and subsequent cover-up that forced the resignation of former president Richard Nixon in 1974.
Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, commended the FBI “for having the courage to reopen the case.” He was speaking Friday to a crowd of supporters in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, who chanted “Lock her up! Lock her up!” when he mentioned the Clinton email case.
Clinton has been hounded for many months by questions regarding her use of private email instead of a government account. The FBI launched an investigation into the emails in 2015, but concluded in July that there was no basis to charge Clinton. Comey said at the time that his agents had concluded Clinton was “extremely careless in the handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”
Jonathan Turley, law professor at George Washington University, told VOA the FBI announcement was highly unusual, coming just 11 days before the election.
The FBI, he said, “has a policy not to release announcements or take actions right before elections. … The only reason why the FBI would do that is if it felt there was credible information that would require further investigation. And this has to be more than just a hunch.”
Turley said the content of the emails must be significant for the FBI to break from its longstanding policy.
No evidence of leak, hack
Clinton has said she used the private server rather than a more secure government server because it was more convenient for her. Critics say she was trying to shield her communications from the Freedom of Information Act.
Although classified information turned up in email stored on her personal server, which authorities say was vulnerable to hacking, there was no evidence that she shared it with unauthorized parties on purpose and tried to cover that up.
House Judiciary Committee chairman Congressman Bob Goodlatte said in a statement Friday that the FBI’s decision echoes what his panel has been asking for months.
“The more we learn about Secretary Clinton’s use of a private email server, the clearer it becomes that she and her associates committed wrongdoing and jeopardized national security,” Goodlatte’s statement said.
Steve Herman and Jesusemen Oni contributed to this report.