Late last week, FBI Director James Comey ignited rampant media speculation with a brief letter to Congress revealing that his agency had discovered a new cache of Hillary Clinton emails from her tenure as Secretary of State. Government Executive turned to Attorney William Cowden for insight into Comey's actions and their possible ramifications.
In the hours and days that followed Comey’s letter, there have been many new revelations about the announcement, including that FBI agents found the emails during an investigation into former congressman Anthony Weiner (who is married to top Clinton aide Huma Abedin), that the agency did not know the content of the emails at the time Comey sent the letter, and that Comey himself sent a separate letter to his agency expressing some awareness that his actions could affect the 2016 presidential election. That second letter, in particular, was telling to Attorney Cowden.
“What hurts him is the letter he wrote to FBI internally, in which he says, ‘Of course we don’t ordinarily tell Congress, but we also felt it was misleading to the American people not to supplement the record,'" he says. "That is influencing the American people. He didn’t come out and say it, but in a back-handed way it is practically a confession that he would let this out to make sure the American people are not under the impression that the investigation is closed. How is that not influencing an election? I have good cause to be concerned."
Attorney Cowden refers to a prior investigation into Hillary Clinton's private email server to determine whether she and her staff mishandled classified information while Clinton was Secretary of State. Comey ended that investigation by calling Clinton's actions "careless" but pressing zero charges due to his and federal prosecutors’ confidence that there was no criminal intent behind Clinton's server configuration.
"TWO WRONGS DON'T MAKE A RIGHT"
With the story still unfolding, other details continue to come light, including the possibility that the "new" emails are actually just duplicates of messages that have already been examined by investigators and that Comey—who has drawn criticism from both Democrats and Republicans—has been withholding evidence that GOP candidate Donald Trump's long-rumored ties to Russia are actually legitimate. Attorney Cowden, however, believes that releasing an FBI announcement on Donald Trump to counter the Clinton letter would upset the judicial process.
"Two wrongs don’t make a right. If an investigation is going on about Trump’s former campaign manager, that investigation should not be publicized—that’s the whole point of grand jury secrecy rules," he told Government Executive. "Investigations often times don’t lead to a criminal indictment. If there’s no meat to it, it doesn’t go anywhere. But someone’s reputation could be besmirched by the mere fact of being investigated."
You can read more of Attorney Cowden's take on this ongoing story and all of "Amid the Firestorm Over Comey Come Charges of Hatch Act Violations" here.