Democrats kept up their attacks on FBI Director James Comey on Monday, accusing him of a double standard after he revealed his agency’s probe into more material that might relate to presidential candidate Hillary Clinton‘s use of a private email server.
Clinton‘s Republican rival, Donald Trump, has seized on Comey’s announcement on Friday to press his longstanding charge that Clinton lacks integrity, hoping he can make an improbable late comeback and win the Nov. 8 election.
The Clinton campaign and its supporters furiously attacked Comey for releasing information that raised questions but provided no details so close to the election. Some party leaders said the agency was concealing damaging information about the Trump campaign.
The FBI spent a year investigating Clinton‘s use of a private email server, instead of government systems, while she was secretary of state from 2009 to 2013. Comey concluded in July that while Clinton and her staff had been “extremely careless” in handling classified information there were no grounds for any charges.
But the issue resurfaced unexpectedly on Friday when Comey sent a brief letter to members of Congress to tell them the agency was looking at new emails.
He said “we don’t know the significance of this newly discovered collection of emails,” which were found during an unrelated probe into the estranged husband of a top Clinton aide. But Trump, a wealthy New York businessman, used the news to charge that Clinton represents a corrupt political system.
“When we win on Nov 8 we are going to Washington DC and we are going drain the swamp,” he said on Sunday night at a rally in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “Hillary Clinton is not the victim. You, the American people are the victims of this corrupt system.”
US Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, accused Comey on Sunday of “a disturbing double standard for the treatment of sensitive information, with what appears to be a clear intent to aid one political party over another.”
He said, without providing evidence, that the FBI was keeping “explosive information” under wraps about ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings hammered this accusation on Monday, urging the FBI to release information on Trump and his advisers’ dealings with Russia.
“Members of Congress including myself, have asked for months for the FBI to provide us with information as to whether Mr, Trump, Mr Manafort, other associates and the Russian government have any connection with each other,” Cummings told CNN, referring to a former senior Trump campaign official, Paul Manafort.
An FBI spokeswoman said late on Sunday: “When we receive the letter it will be handled through our usual process in responding to members of Congress,” referring to Reid’s accusation.
The US government has accused Russia of a campaign of cyber attacks targeting the Democratic Party that has led to the release of thousands of illegally obtained emails, revealing the sometimes unflattering inner workings of the party. The Kremlin has denied this. Trump has declined to implicate Russia in any wrongdoing.
Democrats have demanded that Comey and the FBI rapidly work to make public what they know about the new email trove. A source familiar with the matter said on Sunday that the FBI had secured a warrant to examine the emails.
Daily tracking polls should reflect soon whether the controversy is having an impact on the race. Early voting means that millions of Americans have already cast their ballots.
Trump had already narrowed Clinton‘s lead in national opinion polls and gone into the lead in a small number of the battleground states where the election is likely to be decided.
Democrats have hoped Clinton‘s lead in opinion polls could also translate into gains in congressional races on Nov 8 that could help them take back control of the Senate and the House of Representatives. That hope could dissipate if Clinton is damaged by the news about the email probe.
Given that there are several Senate races that are “razor thin,” the fresh email controversy “could have an outsized impact because the margins will be so small,” a senior Senate Democratic aide said on Monday.
The latest emails were discovered as part of a separate probe of former Democratic US Representative Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of Huma Abedin, who is Clinton‘s closest aide and confidante, sources close to the FBI investigation have said.
The FBI is investigating illicit text messages Weiner is alleged to have sent to a 15-year-old girl in North Carolina.
The Wall Street Journal reported that federal agents are preparing to spend weeks examining about 650,000 emails contained on Weiner’s laptop for possible links to Clinton‘s email use.
If Clinton wins the election, the controversy could cast a cloud over her White House transition. Trump said the new email cache could represent a “motherlode” of emails.
Cummings said on Monday that the FBI’s vague statement on new emails related to theClinton investigation made it impossible for Clinton to defend herself and “basically gave Donald Trump a softball to hit over the fence.”
On Sunday, Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and campaign manager Robby Mook questioned the FBI head’s decision to notify Congress of the email review before he even knew whether they were significant or relevant.
Comey was appointed FBI director by Democratic President Barack Obama in 2013.
Cummings, the Democratic representative, said Comey was under intense pressure and scrutiny from Republicans in Congress after his conclusion in July that Clinton had not violated the law, so he released the new information to stave off any accusations from Republicans that he had withheld information.