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PolitiFact Takes On The FBI-Hillary Clinton Email Saga

FBI Director James Comey

Hillary Clinton has called on the FBI director to divulge more information on his announcement he is continuing the agency’s investigation into her emails. But does the timing of his move violate federal policy? WUSF's Steve Newborn talks about that with Josh Gillin of PolitiFact Florida.


There's no shortage of "October Surprises" in this year's presidential election, and they're extending into November. Last week's bombshell revelation from FBI Director James Comey that the bureau is continuing to look into Hillary Clinton's classified emails has generated a lot of publicity - but not a lot of information. Here's what Clinton had to say during a recent campaign stop:

"Some of you may have heard about a letter that the FBI director sent out yesterday," she said. "If you're like me, you probably have a few questions about it. It is pretty strange to put something like that out with such little information right before an election."


Her campaign manager, Robby Mook, says it's more than a little strange. He says "There are Justice Department policies against" Comey discussing details of a federal investigation "so close to an election."

Does the letter really violate federal policy? Here's what PolitiFact has to say:

Comey’s letter, sent less than two weeks before the election on Oct. 28, informed committee chairmen and ranking members that the FBI is pursuing options to review newly discovered emails that may be "pertinent" to the case. But given that Comey can't provide more details about the emails, according to reports, Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook called the move "very curious." "Let’s just get all the information out there so that the rumors and the hypotheticals can be put to rest. And again, we’re hearing a lot of criticism now from former Justice Department officials, from former Clinton administration, former Bush administration, pointing out this is unprecedented,"  Mook said Oct. 30 on Meet the Press. "There are Justice Department policies against doing something like this so close to an election." Mook is right that the Justice Department — which oversees the FBI — not only explicitly prohibits employees from interfering with elections but urges employees avoid the appearance of interfering with elections. In August 2008, President George W. Bush’s attorney general, Michael Mukasey, sent an internal memo entitled "election year sensitivities" to employees on the department’s policies on political activities. Part of it reads: "Simply put, politics must play no role in the decisions of federal investigators or prosecutors regarding any investigations or criminal charges. Law enforcement officers and prosecutors may never select the timing of investigative steps or criminal charges for the purpose of affecting any election, or for the purpose of giving an advantage or disadvantage to any candidate or political party. Such a purpose is inconsistent with the Department's mission and with the Principles of Federal Prosecution." Attorney General Eric Holder resent the memo in March 2012. While the memos don’t discuss limitation of timing specifically, former U.S. attorneys have alluded to an unwritten guideline about not filing cases or commenting on investigations in the 60 days before an election. Citing the policy, several former prosecutors and department employees have aired concerns and criticisms. Two former deputy attorney generals under the Clinton and Bush administrations called Comey’s actions a departure from the department’s traditions and "real-time, raw-take transparency taken to its illogical limit." Our ruling The department prohibits its employees from interfering with elections. That policy generally has included being sensitive about what information is released about pending or active investigations in the days and weeks leading up to the election. However, there is no hard and fast rule, and an expert said Comey has the ability to exercise his judgment based on the facts as he knows them. Mook’s claim is accurate but needs that additional information. We rate it Mostly True.

On this same topic, Clinton said during a press conference that Comey's letter "only" went "to Republican members of the House."

"We've made it very clear that, if they are going to be sending this kind of letter that is only going originally to Republican members of the House, that they need to share whatever facts they claim to have with the American people," Clinton said at an Oct. 28 press conference. "And that's what I expect to happen."

Here's PolitiFact's ruling:

Clinton was incorrect to say that the letter "only" went to Republican members of the House of Representatives. Democrat members received the letter, too. The letter was addressed at the top to the chairmen of various congressional committees, who are all currently Republican because the party controls both the Senate and the House. But the second page of the letter indicates that Comey also circulated the letter to ranking Democrats on those committees, as well. You can see the full letter for yourself here. Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate received this letter. We rate Clinton’s claim False.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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