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Attorney general disagreed with FBI director's decision to alert Congress to Hillary Clinton-related emails

Clinton sparks battle
Attorney general, FBI director at odds over Clinton letter 01:54

Attorney General Loretta Lynch disagreed with FBI Director James Comey’s decision to send a letter notifying Congress of new developments in the probe of Hillary Clinton’s private email server, CBS News’ Paula Reid reports.

Did James Comey make the right move publicly reopening the Clinton case? 09:20

Sources close to the Clinton investigation told Reid that Lynch encouraged the FBI chief to follow a long-standing practice not to comment on ongoing investigations. While the two did not speak directly, the attorney general’s position was made clear to Comey. Comey’s decision to flag the new emails was thus made independent of his boss, the attorney general.

In 2012, the attorney general’s office, then led by Eric Holder, sent a department-wide memo that included guidance on making announcements so close to an election.

The memo cautions that employees of the DOJ “must be particularly sensitive to safeguarding the Department’s reputation for fairness, neutrality, and nonpartisanship.”

“Simply put, politics must play no role in the decisions of federal investigators or prosecutors regarding any investigations or criminal charges,” it reads. “Law enforcement officers and prosecutors may never select the timing of investigative steps or criminal charges for the purpose of affecting any election, or for the purpose of giving an advantage or disadvantage to any candidate or political party.”

Impact of FBI's reopened investigation against Clinton 02:58

Comey defended his decision to disclose the latest developments in the investigation in an email he sent to FBI staffers Friday, shortly after sending his letter to eight Republican House and Senate committee chairs.

“Of course, we don’t ordinarily tell Congress about ongoing investigations, but here I feel an obligation to do so given that I testified repeatedly in recent months that our investigation was completed,” he said, referring to the times he has appeared before congressional committees since July. “I also think it would be misleading to the American people were we not to supplement the record.”

The FBI chief said he did not “want to create a misleading impression,” but he acknowledged the “risk” in notifying Congress.

“In trying to strike that balance, in a brief letter and in the middle of an election season, there is significant risk of being misunderstood,” Comey wrote, “but I wanted you to hear directly from me about it.”

CBS News confirmed that the new emails were found on the electronic devices of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin and her husband, former Congressman Anthony Weiner, from an FBI investigation into Weiner’s latest sexting scandal. Abedin and Weiner announced their separation earlier this year.

Following the letter, Comey received plaudits from Republicans over taking further “investigative steps” in the Clinton email case Friday, just as Democrats -- including the Clinton campaign -- called for the immediate release of more information.

Lynch, for her part, is no stranger to Republican criticism over the email investigation. Just as the FBI was wrapping up the case this summer, Lynch had an impromptu meeting with former President Bill Clinton on the tarmac of an Arizona airport.

At the time, Lynch had said the appearance of impropriety was enough to make her regret the chance meeting.

“The most important thing for me as the attorney general is the integrity of this Department of Justice,” the attorney general said in July. “And the fact that the meeting that I had is now casting a shadow over how people are gonna view that work is something I take deeply, and seriously, and painfully.”

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