A federal judge on Monday ordered a search warrant in the Hillary Clinton email investigation be unsealed, a decision that will probably mean the public will learn more details about the FBI’s controversial decision on the eve of the presidential election to resume the closed probe.
U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel ordered that the warrant — along with the reasons that an FBI agent gave for seeking it and an inventory of what was recovered — be unsealed by noon Tuesday. The documents could be telling, revealing what cause the FBI felt it had to search a computer belonging to disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) for evidence in the Clinton email case.
FBI Director James B. Comey had announced publicly in July that he was recommending the Clinton email investigation be closed without charges. But on Oct. 28, long after the Justice Department had accepted his recommendation and closed the case, he told Congress that agents were resuming their work. Comey offered little to explain why, writing to legislators only that in connection with an “unrelated case,” agents had found emails that “appear to be pertinent to the investigation.”
Law enforcement officials would later reveal, on the condition of anonymity, that the unrelated case was the investigation of Weiner for alleged sexting with a minor, and the emails included correspondence to and from Clinton and top aide Huma Abedin, Weiner’s estranged wife. The warrant at issue was to search a computer belonging to Weiner; Castel initially wrote in his order that it was issued Oct. 20, though he later corrected that date to Oct. 30.
Comey’s decision to resume the investigation — and announce publicly that agents were doing so — drew widespread criticism. Justice Department officials had advised against his sending a letter to Congress, arguing that doing so would violate long-standing policy that prohibits investigators from taking overt steps that could impact an election.
Even though Comey announced on Nov. 6 that agents had finished their review and had not changed their earlier conclusion, many Democrats feel he irreparably harmed Clinton’s bid to become president. Clinton herself has said Comey’s actions blunted her momentum.
People familiar with Comey’s thinking have said he felt word of the resumed probe would leak anyway, and the public might then feel the matter was being covered up.
The warrant would presumably offer new details on what evidence investigators had that they felt warranted resuming their work and going through Weiner’s computer for potentially relevant information. Los Angeles lawyer E. Randol Schoenberg sued to have it unsealed, arguing that — particularly because of the ramifications and questions surrounding the high-profile case — it was critical that the public know more.
“Access to the search warrant is critical for the public to learn the basis for the reopening of the investigation to ensure that the FBI acted in a manner consistent with its constitutional obligations under the Fourth Amendment,” he asserted in a court filing.
The FBI already had made public on its website a lengthy investigative summary and interviews with witnesses in the case before it was reopened. Castel wrote that the government had initially objected to making the warrant public, but later dropped that objection as long as certain redactions were made.