Pete Williams: The FBI probably won’t say anything more about the email investigation before the election
Additionally, NBC’s Pete Williams reports that it’s possible the FBI’s review of the emails could end quickly — now that the FBI obtained a warrant to search them. “They’ll narrow them down to look at just those dating from the time Hillary Clinton was secretary of state. Then they’ll weed out any that are not about government business. Agents will use automated software to search what’s left for duplicates they’ve already found during the investigation of the Clinton e-mail server. Any that remain will be checked for classified information,” Williams reported on “Today” this morning. “Officials say there’s no way to tell how long that will take. But they say if it goes quickly, and nothing classified is found, the FBI could say so within the next few days. It largely depends on how many of the e-mails are duplicates and how many are new to the investigators.”
It’s not that they’re going to try to read the emails quickly, in other words. How could they? There are, allegedly, 650,000 to wade through. (Although, Anthony Weiner being Anthony Weiner, figure maybe 600,000 are crotch shots sent to random women.) They’re going to use software to try to eliminate all the ones they don’t need to read and then see if anything’s left. Imagine the dilemma, though, if they run the software for the period beginning on the date Hillary took over at State and ending on the date she left and they find nothing but duplicates of messages they already reviewed earlier this year on other devices. Does Comey reveal that information or does he put it in his pocket and wait until after the election to disclose it, fearful of influencing the election yet again with the polls set to open imminently? He’d have to disclose it, right? If he waits until after the election and Trump pulls the upset, Democrats will scream from the rooftops that his silence before the vote cost Clinton the presidency. Trump will be treated as an illegitimate president by the left (“selected, not elected!”) and the FBI will have to explain why it was okay to disclose that Clinton was being re-investigated but not that she had been cleared. If, on the other hand, he waits until after the election and Clinton wins anyway, he’ll be accused by the right once he makes the announcement clearing her that the investigation was rigged and he’s simply trying to curry favor with the president-elect, his soon-to-be boss. And his reputation with the left won’t be (fully) rehabilitated: They’ll still want to know why he raised the prospect of wrongdoing last Friday, potentially affecting the race, only to declare later that there’d been no crime committed.
An even harder dilemma: What if the FBI does their software search, finds that there are some new emails to be reviewed, and discovers something damning sent by Hillary during their first day or two of review? Does Comey reveal that before the election? He’s facing total chaos in that case no matter what he does. If he discloses it immediately, with the vote mere days away, Democrats will howl that he’s thrown the election to Trump. It’d be a national crisis. If he holds the information until after the vote, his best-case scenario is that Trump wins anyway, although once Comey reveals the new dirt on Hillary he’ll be accused by the left of undertaking a political prosecution of the president-elect’s enemies, to please the right-wing base. The worst-case scenario, of course, is that Clinton wins the election and then Comey has to walk out and say he’s recommending charges, in which case we have the biggest national clusterfark since Watergate. Does Hillary step aside for Tim Kaine? What happens when Trump launches his post-election national “I would have won if Comey hadn’t sat on the incriminating evidence” tour?
If Comey had his wish, I’m sure he’d strongly prefer not to have to say anything more before next Tuesday lest he be accused of messing with voters at an even more decisive moment. His best play is to slow-walk the investigation, hope that Clinton wins so that he can’t be accused of having tilted the election with Friday’s announcement, and then hope nothing incriminating shows up upon review. He’ll be accused of ingratiating himself to Hillary if/when he clears her later next month, but that’s the least amount of damage he can sustain at this point. The last thing he wants, I’m sure, is to be forced to say something more this week based on what the review has or hasn’t turned up. He may not have a choice.
Exit question: Huma Abedin has to be lying when she says she doesn’t know how her emails ended up on Weiner’s computer, right? Or could there be an innocent tech explanation for this? E.g., what if Abedin’s own laptop broke at some point over the past few years and, in a pinch, she asked to use Weiner’s for work for a few days? If she configured her email account on that computer, I suppose the computer could have automatically downloaded her email archive.