Comey’s latest letter ignites new powder keg of charges

FBI Director James Comey’s new letter to Congress two days before the election standing by no charges against Hillary Clinton in the personal email server case has ignited a new firestorm of allegations about the probe.

While Democrats cited Comey’s letter to Congress as new evidence that she should be exonerated of any wrongdoing, Republicans were equally adamant that the FBI’s leadership, along with top Justice Department officials, cannot be trusted and that other evidence remains that will still ensnare Clinton in criminal activity.

The Republican National Committee Sunday afternoon issued a statement arguing that the FBI’s findings that she and her staff had been “extremely careless” with classified material on her private email server is proof enough that she broke the law even though Comey is standing by his earlier decision not to recommend an indictment after reviewing new emails that could be relevant to the case.

The federal statute governing the handling of classified material has a standard of “gross negligence” to be met for criminal charges.

“The FBI’s findings from its criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton’s secret email server were a damning and unprecedented indictment of her judgment,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement. “The FBI found evidence that Clinton broke the law, that she placed classified national security information at risk and repeatedly lied to the American people about her reckless conduct.”

Priebus also highlighted an ongoing FBI investigation into pay-to-play allegations involving the Clintons’ charitable organizations and her work as secretary of state.

“None of this changes the fact that the FBI continues to investigate the Clinton Foundation for corruption involving her tenure as secretary of state,” he said. “Hillary Clinton should never be president.”

Democrats, meanwhile, cited the new Comey letter as more proof that she did nothing criminal in operating a private email server throughout her time as the nation’s top diplomat and that it is finally time to move on.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and one of Clinton’s top supporters on Capitol Hill, said the latest Comey letter reaffirms his earlier decision to recommend against further action by the Justice Department.

“This should end the email saga once and for all,” Feinstein said. “Now that this matter is concluded, I hope that the final days of the campaign allow the American people an opportunity to consider the important issues facing our country‎.”

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., echoed Feinstein’s sentiments, arguing that the FBI’s latest conclusion should put an end to the “Republican sideshow” of the Clinton email investigation, while Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, slammed the letter as yet another “vague announcement” from the FBI that raises more questions than it answers.

Meanwhile, House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, vowed during a Sunday night interview on Fox News to continue investigating all of the allegations surrounding Clinton no matter who wins the election.

An attorney who was part of a high-profile group of conservative former Justice Department officials and legal scholars who recently ripped into FBI Director James Comey in a private meeting now says Comey’s latest move is an erratic attempt to “overcorrect” his previous actions and defies new evidence in the case.

Sean Bigley, a lawyer who specializes in defending security clearance holders accused of mishandling classified material, compared Comey’s Sunday letter that said Clinton wouldn’t face charges in the email investigation to a driver skidding in one direction and then another on an icy, rainy road.

“My guess is that he started to see some of the blowback from conservative legal scholars and thought maybe I took it a little too far … I didn’t have to do it that way,” Bigley told the Washington Examiner in an interview Sunday. He was referring to Comey’s July conclusion that “no reasonable prosecutor” who indict Clinton based on the evidence the FBI had gathered thus far even though he found that she and her staff had been “extremely careless” with the handling of classified material on her private server.

“So it was almost like driving the car in the rain and you start to skid and then you overcorrect and then you start to skid the other way and you overcorrect the other way…it’s just very odd, very odd,” he said.

Comey, Bigley acknowledged, was in a “tight spot either way.”

“But frankly, he put himself in that position – I think the blowback he was getting from issuing this most recent letter [to Congress in late October] was probably more than what he was expecting – it seemed like maybe he felt he had to do something to put this to bed for his own political future if you will,” Bigley added.

Bigley also said a report over the weekend that Clinton directed her maid, who lacked a security clearance, in her house in Washington to print out materials that may have been classified at the time raises undeniable criminal liability for her.

“If one of my clients had done that, they would be looking at a guaranteed security clearance revocation along with a high likelihood of prosecution,” he told the Examiner. “The arrogance and disregard for security rules is breathtaking.”

The story about the maid’s access to State Department emails and other material is based on released State Department emails and FBI notes from an interview with Human Abedin, a top Clinton aide. According to the emails and the notes, the maid had access to a highly secure room called a SCIF (sensitive compartmented information facility) that diplomatic security agents set up at Clinton’s D.C. residence.

“The printer was inside Clinton’s home SCIF…to which only people with Top Secret / SCI clearance are supposed to have access to un-escorted,” Bigley said. “Given that the emails the FBI reviewed would ostensibly have been the same as those the State Department just released, I am hard-pressed to understand the FBI’s conclusion…that no reasonable prosecutor would bring a case against her.”

“Provision of classified information to someone unauthorized to receive it is a clear and unambiguous federal crime,” he said.

Prominent Democrats, including President Obama and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, had suggested in recent days that Comey had erred in alerting Congress less than two weeks before Election Day of new emails the FBI was reviewing that might be relevant to the Clinton email case.

Pelosi even began to undermine Comey’s authority at the FBI.

“Maybe he’s not in the right job,” she told CNN. “I think that we have to just get through this election and just see what the casualties are along the way.”

Bigley was part of a group of former Republican Justice Department officials, including ex-Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who lambasted Comey’s July decision to essentially exonerate Clinton in a private meeting in late October eight days before Comey appeared to renew the Clinton email investigation with his first letter to Congress alerting them of the new emails the FBI was reviewing.

The event, billed as a discussion on “The Law after Comey’s decision,” featured several speakers including Mukasey, who served in the George W. Bush administration, hammering Comey over the legal precedent he set in concluding the email probe three months ago without charging Clinton with a crime.

“The damage that was done to the concept of one aspect of the rule of law — that the same rules apply to everybody … is something that we’ll be dealing with for decades,” Mukasey argued before an audience of 100 lawyers and interested parties.

“When he said no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case, I couldn’t believe my ears,” Mukasey remarked.

Mukasey and other conservatives have made some of the same points in op-eds and public remarks. But the forum, held at the D.C. offices of the prestigious Covington & Burling law firm, had the added punch of impugning Comey’s prior reputation as a rare, trusted, non-partisan actor.

At one point during the forum, Mukasey questioned Comey’s “carefully cultivated,” “straight arrow” image by accusing him of coordinating his account before Congress of a famous hospital showdown during the Bush years. According to Comey’s account of the incident, he rushed to the side of ailing then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to prevent him from reauthorizing Bush’s domestic surveillance program.

Mukasey accused Comey of consulting with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on the sickbed story before his vivid testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2007.

“Great drama — turned out that was all staged,” Mukasey said. “… He apparently consulted with Sen. Schumer the weekend before he gave the testimony… so when the question was asked, he could hang his head and say, ‘I knew that I would be called to account for this some day’ and proceeded to have the story pulled up.”

Bigley, during the meeting, told the story of a Navy SEAL he represented more than a year ago who lost his military career and had his security clearance revoked over his decision to take a cell phone photo of a page of his training manual so he could study it later.

“This is how seriously the government takes some of these cases,” Bigley said. “Many times when one mistake is made, that’s forgiven – there needs to be a pattern of 1, 2, 3 or 4 [mistakes]. But in this particular case, one mistake was it, and he was out. It was a really stark contrast to the Clinton case.”

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