There is a lot of new reporting about the letter that FBI Director James Comey sent to Members of Congress, notifying them about newly discovered emails that may be pertinent to the FBI's previous investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server.

Those emails reportedly could number in the thousands and were discovered on a laptop used jointly by former Congressman Anthony Weiner and his wife, Huma Abedin, a top aide to Clinton and were discovered in the course of an unrelated probe into Weiner's sexting.

Comey's language is opaque and cryptic. Comey says that the new emails "appear to be pertinent" to the previous investigation into Clinton's use of a private server. He also says the FBI is now seeking to "determine whether they contain classified information," and "cannot yet assess whether the material may or may not be significant". Comey's own declaration that the new emails "appear to be pertinent" suggests that they are significant. Comey surely knew that news organisations would conclude as much. Perversely, we are being told by news outlets that the new info may not be substantively significant, but it may be politically significant.

Comey's latest justification requires more explanation.


Jane Mayer reports that Justice Department officials are furious, seeing it as a violation of longstanding department protocols, which discourage public comment on ongoing investigations and advise taking care not to influence elections. Others have defended it, arguing that Comey had an obligation to notify Congress about any potentially relevant new findings.

Comey had to know that releasing such a vaguely worded letter to legislators at this time would allow Republicans to argue that new evidence of Clinton's criminality has been discovered. This is of course exactly what has happened.

Of course, it's not clear how much the FBI actually knows about the current emails. We don't know whether Clinton sent any of these emails. The Los Angeles Times reports that according to one official, "the emails were not to and from Clinton". But a law enforcement official told the Washington Post the "correspondence included emails between Abedin and Clinton". That could simply mean emails were sent by Abedin to Clinton.

Kurt Eichenwald's sources say Abedin frequently printed out emails she had received that she thought Clinton should read, and in some cases printed out emails that Clinton had forwarded to her for that purpose.

Eichenwald adds that "none" of the newly found emails were sent from Abedin to Clinton, which would seem to suggest they were all emails Abedin had received that she wanted to print for Clinton to read.

Pete Williams reported that the FBI will need to get a court order to read the emails. So it's not clear how we know the little bit we have been told.

Some or all could be duplicates. If so that would dovetail with the notion that they do not contain new significance.