The FBI on Friday said is reopening its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server, a stunning and unexpected move that comes over a week before the presidential election.
In a letter sent to lawmakers on Friday, FBI Director James Comey said the bureau has learned of the existence of more emails “that appear to be pertinent to the investigation.” The emails were found “in connection with an unrelated case,” Comey wrote, without further explanation.
After being briefed by his investigative team, Comey “agreed that the FBI should take appropriate investigative steps designed to allow investigators to review these emails to determine whether they contain classified information, as well as to asses their importance to our investigation.”
Comey said he could not predict how long it would take the bureau to assess whether the new emails are “significant.”
The FBI’s surprise announcement jolted the presidential race, thrusting the controversy over Clinton’s emails into the political spotlight with just over a week to go until voters head to the polls.
Clinton’s Republican opponent, Donald Trump, has attacked Clinton over her private email server, arguing it should disqualify her from the White House. He seized on the FBI’s decision at a rally on Friday afternoon as he seeks to make up ground in the polls.
— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorp) October 28, 2016
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in a statement said Clinton should be be denied the classified intelligence briefings that are given to presidential nominees.
“Yet again, Hillary Clinton has nobody but herself to blame. She was entrusted with some of our nation’s most important secrets, and she betrayed that trust by carelessly mishandling highly classified information,” Ryan said in a statement.
“This decision, long overdue, is the result of her reckless use of a private email server, and her refusal to be forthcoming with federal investigators. I renew my call for the Director of National Intelligence to suspend all classified briefings for Secretary Clinton until this matter is fully resolved.”
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) tweeted Friday morning before the letter’s release: “FBI Dir just informed me, ‘The FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation.’ Case reopened.”
The FBI officially closed the probe into whether the former secretary of State mishandled classified information on her personal server in July.
Comey at the time called Clinton “extremely careless” but declined to recommend charges to the Justice Department, outraging Republicans who said she should have been indicted.
The FBI director repeatedly said that Clinton’s use of the server did not rise to the level of criminal behavior because investigators were unable to amass any evidence that she had intended to mishandle classified information. The probe did reveal that some information marked classified at the time was sent through the server.
Clinton has apologized for her use of the server, calling it a “mistake.”
The FBI investigation has been under fierce scrutiny from lawmakers, Trump and conservative groups who believe Clinton received preferential treatment from the Obama Justice Department.
The FBI has made public hundreds of pages of documents related to the probe, including the official summaries of interviews done by investigators, and emails uncovered during the probe are being made public in batches by the State Department.
Critics of the Justice Department’s decision not to charge Clinton in the case have seized on individual revelations in these documents as evidence that the investigation was mishandled.
Earlier on Friday, the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch announced a lawsuit against the FBI, citing “an air of corruption” and seeking records related to the probe.
Comey has defended the integrity of the probe.
“You can call us wrong, but don’t call us weasels. We are not weasels,” Comey said at a House Judiciary Committee hearing in September. “We are honest people, and whether or not you agree with the result, this was done the way you want it to be done.”
NBC News first reported the existence of Comey’s letter on Friday.
The full text of Comey’s letter reads:
In previous congressional testimony, I referred to the fact that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had completed its investigation of former Secretary Clinton’s personal email server. I am writing to supplement my previous testimony.
In connection with an unrelated case, the FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation. I am writing to inform you that the investigative team briefed me on this yesterday, and I agree that the FBI should take appropriate investigative steps designed to allow investigators to review these emails to determine whether the contain classified information, as well as to assess their importance to our investigation.
Although the FBI cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant, and I cannot predict how long it will take us to complete the additional work, I believe it is important to update your Committees about our efforts in light of my previous testimony.