FBI Director James B. Comey told Congress last week he found “hundreds and thousands” of Hillary Clinton-related emails from Clinton aide Huma Abedin on Abedin's then-husband and former sexting congressman Anthony Weiner's computer.
It turns out that's wrong. ProPublica and now The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the FBI found a much smaller number of Abedin-Clinton emails on her ex-husband's computer than “hundreds and thousands.”
Besides severely damaging Comey's nonpartisan reputation, here's why the number of emails on Weiner's computer matters: It risks undercutting the FBI's entire reason for notifying Congress 11 days before the election that it had found new information regarding its criminal probe of Clinton.
Top Democrats are pretty sure that letter cost them the election. So to learn that Comey's decision to send it may have rested on far fewer emails than he claims adds rocket fuel to their argument that President Trump didn't win fair and square: Comey helped him by dinging Clinton for no good reason.
The FBI technically never reopened its criminal probe into whether Clinton should be charged with a crime for her, in Comey's words, “extremely careless” treatment of classified information. But “the FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation,” Comey told Congress in an earth-shattering Oct. 28 letter that immediately leaked to the media.
Two days before the election, Comey updated Congress that the emails amounted to nothing that would lead the FBI to change its recommendation that the government not charge Clinton with a crime. But Democrats believe the damage was done: Voters skeptical of Clinton were reminded of why they didn't like her, and voters who already weren't going to vote for Clinton had a fresh reason to go to the polling booth.
“I was on the way to winning until the combination of Jim Comey's letter on October 28 and Russian WikiLeaks raised doubts in the minds of people who were inclined to vote for me but got scared off,” Clinton said recently.
Comey will probably spend the rest of his life defending his decision to tell Congress about the new Clinton emails. And the crux of his defense is that what he found on Weiner's computer necessitated it.
Here's just some of Comey's testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday (bold emphasis added) to that effect:
[My investigators] laid out for me what they could see from the metadata on this fella Anthony Weiner's laptop that had been seized in an unrelated case. What they could see from the metadata, was that there were thousands of Secretary Clinton's emails on that device, including what they thought might be the missing emails from her first three months of secretary of state.
We never found any emails from her first three months. She was using a Verizon BlackBerry then and that's obviously very important, because if there was evidence that she was acting with bad intent, that's where it would be in the first three months.
… Somehow, her emails are being forwarded to Anthony Weiner, including classified information by her assistant, Huma Abedin. And so they found thousands of new emails and then called me the Saturday night before the election and said thanks to the wizardry of our technology, we've only had to personally read 6,000. We think we can finish tomorrow morning, Sunday.
And so I met with them and they said we found a lot of new stuff. We did not find anything that changes our view of her intent. So we're in the same place we were in July. It hasn't changed our view and I asked them lots of questions and I said okay, if that's where you are, then I also have to tell Congress that we're done. Look, this is terrible. It makes me mildly nauseous to think that we might have had some impact on the election. But honestly, it wouldn't change the decision.
Democrats already weren't buying Comey's justification. As Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee and a top Comey skeptic, said last week: “As it turned out, not one email on the laptop changed the FBI's original conclusion that no prosecution was warranted.”
Now, Comey's misleading testimony has given Democrats even less of a reason to give him the benefit of the doubt.