The case of Hillary Clinton’s private server took a pair of almost cinematically strange turns Friday. The Federal Bureau of Investigation announced that it is examining emails that the Bureau considers “pertinent to the investigation” of Clinton’s server—months after declaring that she wouldn’t be prosecuted for any crimes in connection with that email system. Odder still, the messages in question were found on electronic devices that belong to top Clinton aide Huma Abedin and her disgraced and estranged husband, former congressman Anthony Weiner.
In a letter to members of Congress, FBI Director James Comey said the emails were discovered “in connection with an unrelated case.” The New York Times first reported the connection to Abedin and Weiner, whose cell phone and call records were subpoenaed by federal prosecutors investigating his communications with an underage girl. The Washington Post reported that the emails in question were found on a computer used jointly by Abedin and Weiner.
An individual familiar with the FBI’s review told The Daily Beast that the emails are large in number, but it’s not yet clear that any of them contain classified information.
Coming just 11 days before the presidential election, the revelation of potential new evidence in a scandal that has plagued Clinton’s campaign gave new ammunition to her opponents and inspired fierce criticism of the FBI director from her supporters.
While Comey’s letter was certainly surprising, it wasn’t particularly illuminating, nor is it clear that the recently discovered emails will alter the FBI’s earlier conclusions that Clinton and her aides, while “extremely careless,” had not done things that warranted criminal prosecution when they used private email accounts for official business.
Clinton herself pointed to the vagueness of the letter in a hastily arranged press conference Friday evening, by calling on Comey to release more details about the nature of the investigation as soon as possible.
“It’s imperative that the Bureau explains this issue in question, whatever it is, without delay,” Clinton said. “Right now, your guess is as good as mine. And I don’t think that’s good enough… if they’re going to be sending this kind of letter… then they need to share whatever facts they claim to have with the American people.”
Comey’s letter also may have had more to do with correcting his own previous testimony than tipping off lawmakers to some new bombshell. He began began by noting that he’d earlier testified that the FBI “had completed its investigation of former Secretary Clinton’s personal email server.” The new developments, however, meant that testimony was no longer accurate. Comey said his letter updating lawmakers was meant to “supplement” what he’d previously told them.
Comey wrote that FBI investigators had informed him of the newly discovered emails a day earlier.
“I agreed that the FBI should take appropriate investigative steps designed to allow investigators to review these emails to determine whether they contain classified information, as well as to assess their importance to our investigation,” Comey wrote, adding that there is no timetable for the new investigation. Comey also said the FBI is thus far unable to “assess whether or not this material may be significant.”
At no point did Comey say the FBI had reopened its investigation of Clinton and her email server, but that didn’t stop her critics from claiming as much.
Republican nominee Donald Trump, who is trailing Clinton in national and state polls, pounced on the news, saying at a New Hampshire rally that Clinton will pay for her use of a private server.
“Hillary Clinton’s corruption is on a scale that we have never seen before. Perhaps finally justice will be done,” Trump said. In the past, he has criticized the Department of Justice for not charging Clinton after an extensive investigation into her email system, which Comey said mishandled classified information.
Trump has previously suggested that Abedin was a security risk because of Weiner’s proclivity for sexting with strangers.
“Huma Abedin, the top aide to Hillary Clinton and the wife of perv sleazebag Anthony Wiener [sic], was a major security risk as a collector of info,” Trump tweeted last August.
Weiner has a long history of sexually-charged conversations with women he met online. But it’s apparently a more recent relationship that helped reignite the Clinton controversy. The Daily Mail reported in September that Weiner carried on a sexually-charged series of communications for months with a girl who said she was 15. Weiner sent photos of himself bare-chested to the girl. While investigating this exchange, the FBI came upon the computer where they found emails related to the Clinton investigation.
Back in 2013, after Weiner admitted to sexting with women even after that behavior led him to resign from Congress, Trump lashed out at the disgraced politician.
“Wiener [sic] is seriously sick and will never change!” Trump tweeted.
Earlier this month, leaked footage from an Access Hollywood segment showed Trump bragging about his own sexual exploits and his fondness for grabbing women’s genitals without their permission. Since then, 11 women have come forward to accuse Trump of kissing or groping them against their will.
Weiner didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta said that Comey had raised more questions than he answered. He “should immediately provide the American public more information than is contained in the letter he sent to eight Republican committee chairmen,” Podesta said in a statement. “Already, we have seen characterizations that the FBI is ‘reopening’ an investigation but Comey’s words do not match that characterization.”
Republican lawmakers also lashed out at Clinton for her email use and called on intelligence officials to withhold classified information from her and her aides in light of the FBI’s new discovery.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said Clinton “has nobody but herself to blame,” and reiterated his call for Clinton to no longer receive classified intelligence briefings—a privilege given to her as the Democratic presidential nominee. Trump is also allowed to receive briefings.
Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that it was “no surprise that the FBI has found additional problematic emails. FBI Director James Comey is right to reopen the investigation and pursue all leads until we know the full extent of Clinton’s misconduct and the full extent of the harm she did to our national security. In light of these circumstances, it’s impossible to see how Director of National Intelligence James Clapper can believe Clinton or any of her implicated staffers should ever again be provided access to classified information.”
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, stated, “Now that the FBI has reopened the matter, it must conduct the investigation with impartiality and thoroughness. The American people deserve no less and no one should be above the law.”
Clinton’s defenders, meanwhile, accused the FBI of playing politics and handing Clinton’s opponent a major boost.
“I was shocked to read Director Comey’s letter,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement, calling the FBI director’s decision to disclose the information so close to the election “appalling.”
“This is particularly troubling since so many questions are unanswered. It’s unclear whether these emails have already been reviewed or if Secretary Clinton sent or received them. In fact, we don’t even know if the FBI has these emails in its possession,” Feinstein said.
She continued, “Director Comey’s announcement played right into the political campaign of Donald Trump, who is already using the letter for political purposes.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, also said he was surprised by Comey’s letter “given how obvious it was that Republicans would immediately misconstrue and mischaracterize it. The FBI Director did explain in his letter that none of this information may even be significant, but that did not stop Republicans from hyperventilating and making wild accusations.”
Comey has vehemently objected to allegations that the FBI’s investigation was influenced by election year politics and that the bureau had erred in concluding after its lengthy investigation that there was no crime to prosecute.
“You can call us wrong, but don’t call us weasels. We are not weasels,” Comey said last month at a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee. “We are honest people and… whether or not you agree with the result, this was done the way you want it to be done.”