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Clinton email findings may not come before Election Day

Eric Tucker
Associated Press

Washington — The FBI will have to sort through thousands of newly discovered emails in its renewed examination of the practices of Hillary Clinton and her aides, a U.S. official said Monday, raising questions about whether any findings might be released before Election Day.

Clinton forcefully challenged the email inquiry Monday, declaring during a campaign rally in battleground Ohio, “There’s no case here.”

It’s not clear whether the emails are pertinent to the FBI’s dormant investigation into whether classified information passed through Clinton’s homebrew email server. But Clinton’s comments Monday were her most pointed yet on the subject, and they underscored her campaign’s decision to fight back aggressively against the FBI’s review.

Clinton accused the FBI of having jumped into the election “with no evidence of any wrongdoing with just days to go.” She said that if the bureau wants to look at the emails from her longtime aide Huma Abedin, “by all means, they should look at them.”

But she insisted the FBI would reach the same conclusion it did earlier this year when it declined to prosecute Clinton and her advisers for their handling of classified information.

“They said it wasn’t even a close call,” she said. “I think most people have decided a long time ago what they think about all of this.”

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid went a step further, saying FBI Director James Comey may have violated the law by revealing the existence of the emails in an ambiguous letter to Congress last Friday.

In a blistering letter to Comey, Reid said the FBI director failed to disclose “explosive” evidence of “close ties and coordination” between Republican Donald Trump, his advisers, and the Russian government, yet rushed to disclose “innuendo” about the Democratic presidential nominee “in the most negative light possible” 11 days before the election.

Comey’s “disturbing double standard’ appears to be “a clear intent to aid one political party over another,” Reid wrote. “My office has determined that these actions may violate the Hatch Act.” That statute bars FBI officials from using their authority to influence an election.

The timing of the inquiry matters because Donald Trump has been assailing Clinton ever more vigorously since Comey’s letter to Congress. He said agents would take steps to review the messages, which were found on a computer seized during an unrelated investigation involving the estranged husband of a Clinton aide.

Anthony Weiner, the disgraced former New York congressman, is being investigated in connection with online communications with a teenage girl. He was separated this year from Huma Abedin, one of Clinton’s closest advisers.

At the White House, spokesman Josh Earnest said he would neither defend nor criticize the timing of Comey’s disclosure. But he also said President Barack Obama does not believe Comey was trying to influence the election, or strategizing to benefit one candidate or party.

“He’s in a tough spot, and he’s the one who will be in a position to defend his actions in the face of significant criticism from a variety of legal experts, including individuals who served in senior Department of Justice positions in administrations that were led by presidents in both parties,” Earnest said.

Clinton fires back

Trump has seized on the FBI review, gleeful over getting a new opportunity to hammer Clinton’s trustworthiness and perhaps change the trajectory of a race that appeared to be slipping away from him.

On Monday, Clinton tried to refocus the contest on Trump as she opened the final full week of campaigning with a rally at Kent State University. She’s blasted Trump at length for being unfit to serve as commander in chief, bringing together several of the charges she has leveled against him throughout the campaign.

Speaking in serious tones, Clinton warned at length about putting Trump in control of the nation’s nuclear stockpiles. She accused him of talking “casually” about nuclear war and wondered whether he knows “that a single nuclear warhead can kill millions of people.”

It was not immediately clear exactly how many emails have been recovered in the FBI inquiry or what significance, if any, they might have.

But the U.S. official who spoke to The Associated Press said the trove numbers in the thousands and the FBI, which had a warrant to begin the review, would be focusing on those deemed pertinent to its earlier Clinton email server investigation. It’s unclear how many emails might be relevant.

In its letter to lawmakers, the department promised to “continue to work closely with the FBI and together dedicate all necessary resources and take appropriate steps as expeditiously as possible.”

The FBI and Justice Department closed that investigation, which examined whether Clinton and her aides had mishandled classified information, without charges in July.

The official who spoke to the AP was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.

What did Abedin know?

The fact that another cache of emails potentially important to the investigation has only recently been discovered raises an immediate question: How could Abedin have been unaware of their existence?

The answer is not yet clear, but it’s possible that either she did not know about the emails on the computer of her estranged husband, forgot about them or for some other reason did not turn them over.

In a sworn deposition taken in June as part of a lawsuit filed by the conservative legal group Judicial Watch, Abedin was asked about what devices she had used to send or receive messages from her account on the clintonemail.com server.

As part of the process in 2015 of returning her work-related emails to the State Department, Abedin said she “looked for all the devices that may have any of my State Department” work and provided two laptops and a Blackberry to her lawyers for review.

Abedin made no mention of there being additional devices where her emails might have been saved.

A person familiar with the investigation said the device that appears to be at the center of the new review belonged only to Weiner and was not a computer he shared with Abedin.

As a result, it was not a device Abedin searched for work-related emails at the time of the initial investigation, according to the person, who said of Abedin that it was “news to her” that her emails would be on a computer belonging to her husband.

Even if the recovered emails are found to contain classified information, it’s not clear what impact that would have on the investigation.

Comey has already described Clinton and her aides as “extremely careless” and has said agents found scores of classified emails on Clinton’s server.

But he also said there was no evidence they intended to mishandle classified information or obstructed justice, elements he suggested would be necessary for a prosecution.