WASHINGTON DC // The Federal Bureau of Investigation is reopening its inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s use of private email while secretary of state, a politically explosive development less than two weeks before the presidential election.
“In connection with an unrelated case, the FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation,” director James Comey said in a letter to eight committee chairmen in congress. “I agreed that the FBI should take appropriate investigative steps designed to allow investigators to review these emails to determine whether they contain classified information.”
Mr Comey said he could not say how long the review would take, raising the possibility that Mrs Clinton could go into election day with the new probe unresolved and still hanging over her campaign.
The Democratic candidate had appeared to be cruising toward a dominant win in the election. She held an average four-point lead over Donald Trump in polls that include independent candidates as of Friday, according to Real Clear Politics. Some recent polls have been far worse for Mr Trump; the Associated Press said on October 26 that its poll showed Clinton with a 14-point lead. The election projection site FiveThirtyEight.com assessed her odds of a win at 82 per cent on Friday.
The Republican candidate celebrated the FBI’s decision during an appearance with supporters in New Hampshire.
“This is bigger than Watergate,” Mr Trump told the crowd, which began chanting “lock her up” after he told them about the probe.
“I have great respect that the FBI and department of justice have the courage to right the horrible mistake that they made,” he said. “This was a grave miscarriage of justice that the American people fully understood.”
House speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, said, “This decision, long overdue, is the result of her reckless use of a private email server, and her refusal to be forthcoming with federal investigators.”
Mrs Clinton offered no immediate comment, ignoring shouted questions from reporters after her plane landed in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Campaign manager Robby Mook and communications director Jennifer Palmieri spoke to reporters on the flight, but they didn’t address the FBI report and weren’t asked about it. Reporters on board learned of the FBI’s decision only after the plane landed.
David E Kendall, her long-time attorney, did not immediately reply to voicemail and email messages seeking comment.
Mr Comey did not elaborate on his reference to an “unrelated case”. Mrs Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta told reporters this month that the FBI was investigating the hacking of his personal email account. Thousands of messages purported to be from that breach have been disseminated by WikiLeaks. CNN, citing law enforcement sources it did not identify, said the new inquiry did not involve WikiLeaks or the Clinton Foundation.
A device that turned up in a separate investigation led to additional emails, according to NBC News.
There are no other known criminal investigations of Mrs Clinton, even as Republicans have questioned her actions as secretary of state in relation to the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative.
When the original investigation was closed in July, Mr Comey faulted Mrs Clinton and her aides for “extremely careless” handling of classified information, but said the evidence was not sufficient to warrant prosecution. Attorney general Loretta Lynch subsequently announced that no charges would “be brought against any individuals within the scope of the investigation”.
Mr Comey on Friday gave legislators no indication in his letter about the importance of the new information.
“Although the FBI cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant, and I cannot predict how long it will take us to complete this additional work, I believe it is important to update your committees about our efforts,” he wrote.