The Justice Department sent a brief letter to six lawmakers today, saying that the department will work closely with the FBI to take “appropriate steps as expeditiously as possible” in the renewed investigation into emails potentially tied to Hillary Clinton’s private email server.
The three paragraph letter written by Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs Peter J. Kadzik said that the department and FBI will “dedicate all necessary resources” to the investigation, but provided no further details about the contents of the emails or whether they are significant.
The short statement on behalf of Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch and FBI Director James B. Comey represents an effort by the Justice Department to stabilize and assert control over a politically explosive situation set in motion Friday when Comey notified congressional leaders about the FBI’s renewed probe.
Kadzik was responding to a letter sent Saturday to Lynch and Comey from Democratic Sens. Thomas R. Carper (Del.), Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Benjamin L. Cardin (Md.) asking that law enforcement authorities provide by Monday more details of the investigative steps being taken by the FBI, the number of emails involved and what is being done to determine how many of the emails are the same as ones already reviewed by the FBI. The letter was also sent to Reps. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich.
“Just ten days before a presidential election, the American people deserve more disclosure without delay regarding the FBI’s most recent announcement,” the senators wrote over the weekend. “Anything less would be irresponsible and a disservice to the American people.”
On Friday, Comey set off a firestorm by telling the chairmen of eight congressional committees that the FBI would take “appropriate investigative steps” to determine whether newly discovered emails found in an unrelated investigation contain classified information and to assess whether they are relevant to the investigation involving Clinton’s private email server. The unrelated case was an investigation of former congressman Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., the estranged husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
Justice officials have said that before Comey notified Congress they warned him that doing so would go against long-standing practices of the department to not comment on ongoing investigations and to not take steps that could be viewed as influencing an election.
Officials familiar with Comey’s decision said that he felt a sense of obligation to lawmakers to “supplement” his testimony under oath in July that the Clinton investigation was complete and there would be no charges. Comey was also concerned that word of the new email discovery would leak to the media and raise questions of a coverup, the officials said.
But his brief letter to lawmakers on Friday did not satisfy at least one of the recipients, Charles Grassley, R-Ia., the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Grassley wrote Comey Monday saying that the disclosure he provided to Congress last week “did not go far enough” and was unfair to Congress and the American people.
“In the absence of additional, authoritative information from the FBI in the wake of your vague disclosure, Congress and the American people are left to sift through anonymous leaks from Justice Department officials to the press of varying levels of detail, reliability, and consistency,” he wrote. “The American people deserve better than that.”
Grassley asked Comey to answer by Nov. 4 a series of questions about the email discovery and what the FBI has learned so far about their contents.
Grassley’s request adds to the increasing pressure on Comey to release more details and clarify his letter to Congress. A bipartisan group of about 100 former federal prosecutors and senior Justice Department officials have also called on Comey to release more information.
“We do not question Director Comey’s motives,” wrote the group, including former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson. “However, the fact remains that the Director’s disclosure has invited considerable, uninformed public speculation about the significance of newly-discovered material just days before a national election. For this reason, we believe the American people deserve all the facts, and fairness dictates releasing information that provides a full and complete picture regarding the material at issue.”
Over the weekend, Comey reached out to the House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and the panel’s ranking member, John Conyers of Michigan. Goodlatte told ABC News that he spoke briefly with Comey in a joint conversation with Conyers.
“We both encouraged him to make sure that the American people have as much information as possible before they have to make a decision on November 8th, based upon this stunning new development, that the bureau is examining new evidence in this case, that they said they had completed several months ago,” Goodlatte said Sunday on ABC This Week.
Goodlatte said that Comey was not responsive to specific questions.
“He did not give us any response in terms of what more he could say,” Goodlatte said. “But he certainly took that under advisement.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest praised Comey as “a man of principle . . . integrity and talent,” and said that President Barack Obama, who nominated Comey three years ago to serve a ten-year sentence, does not believe that he is trying to influence the presidential election.
“The president’s assessment of his [Comey’s] character has not changed,” Earnest said. “The president doesn’t believe he is secretly strategizing to help one candidate or one political party. He’s in a tough spot.”
Earnest said repeatedly that he would “neither defend nor criticize” Comey’s decision, saying he lacked the independent knowledge to weigh in on the ongoing probe.
Earnest said that president believes it is important for the “norms, traditions and guidelines” surrounding FBI investigations to be followed, but Earnest didn’t weigh in on this specific case, saying again that he would neither defend or criticize the FBI director.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Sari Horwitz, Tom Hamburger