FBI director reportedly went against protocol in sending letter about Clinton’s emails

“He is operating independently of the Justice Department. And he knows it.”

FBI Director James Comey. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci
FBI Director James Comey. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

FBI Director James Comey acted against the directives of U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) officials when he sent a letter to members of Congress on Friday about new emails that may or may not relate to the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, according to three media outlets.

The New Yorker, Washington Post, and ABC News all report that DOJ officials, who oversee the FBI, made it clear to Comey that the letter would go against long established protocol.

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An anonymous DOJ official who spoke to the Post told Comey that the letter would go against the position that the agency doesn’t comment on ongoing investigations, nor that it takes any actions that could be seen as influencing an election. “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,” the source said.

The New Yorker even reports that the issue went as high as Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who, according to an anonymous administration official, told Comey that her preference would be not to send the letter for the same reasons.

“You don’t do this,” a former senior Justice Department official told the magazine. “It’s aberrational. It violates decades of practice.”

That practice was codified even further in 2012, when then-Attorney General Eric Holder sent a memo to all DOJ employees about “election year sensitivities.” It reads, “As Department employees…we must be particularly sensitive to safeguarding the Department’s reputation for fairness, neutrality, and nonpartisanship.” It instructs anyone with questions “regarding the timing of charges or overt investigative steps near the time of a primary or general election” to contact the Public Integrity Section of the Criminal Division.

A DOJ spokesperson declined to comment to the New Yorker as to whether Comey contacted that division.

According to the New Yorker’s source, Comey told Lynch that he had to break with the agency’s protocols because he had told Congress he would inform lawmakers of any developments in his investigation into whether Clinton mishandled classified information by using a private server. He also “felt that the impending election created a compelling need to inform the public,” New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer writes.

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In his own explanations of his actions to FBI employees in a letter he sent to them on Friday obtained by the Washington Post, he wrote, “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.”

The Clinton campaign has already accused Comey’s letter of being “long on innuendo and short on facts,” as campaign Chairman John Podesta put it in a call with the press, and called on him to give more information to the public. “His first duty is to the American people,” Podesta said. “We hope that he will take the occasion to explain why he decided to take this extraordinary step.”