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"