Behind the FBI's decision to disclose new Clinton email probe

Law enforcement officials said FBI investigators obtained a search warrant and are reviewing thousands of emails found on a laptop used by Hillary Clinton’s longtime aide Huma Abedin and her estranged husband Anthony Weiner.

FBI director James Comey is facing intense scrutiny for violating protocol and telling Congress about the investigation days before the election. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said Comey may have broken the law. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and nearly 100 other former Department of Justice employees on both sides of the aisle said they were “astonished and perplexed” by Comey’s decision.

In July, Comey recommended not filing criminal charges against Clinton for her use of private servers while secretary of state.

Law enforcement sources say the FBI is now trying to get the technology infrastructure in place to sort through the thousands of emails investigators want to review, reports CBS News correspondent Jeff Pegues. We’ve learned that the emails were discovered earlier this month, but the FBI director said he didn’t find out about them until last Thursday.

CBS News has learned that Comey has been calling members of Congress who’ve demanded that he release more information about the review of the new emails. Comey is under fire for making the disclosure 11 days before the election.

“How are the voters, how is the public supposed to respond to this? And there’s simply no way for the public to make an informed judgment,” Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff said.

Schiff said Friday’s announcement broke agency protocol.
 
“This violates the Department of Justice’s policy against speaking about open or closed investigations, but also the DOJ policy about speaking about investigation this close to an election,” Schiff said.

In a letter addressed to the FBI director Sunday, Democratic Sen. Harry Reid accused Comey of “partisan actions” and alleged that he “may have broken the law” by violating the Hatch Act. It bans most federal and some other government employees from participating in political activities that could help or hurt “a partisan group or candidate in a partisan election.”

Investigators seized the laptop belonging to Abedin and Weiner during a separate probe into Weiner’s alleged communication with an underage girl.

Against the guidance of Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Comey sent a vaguely-worded letter to Congress Friday, saying he didn’t know “whether or not this material may be significant.”

CBS News has learned the FBI deliberated over whether to disclose the information. Officials debated whether they’d be accused of trying to manipulate the election by hiding the renewed investigation if criminal evidence was found.

A person familiar with the process said officials ultimately concluded that the letter was the most credible approach after Comey pledged to inform Congress if anything new came up related to the investigation into Clinton’s use of the private email server. 

“We would certainly look at any new and substantial information,” Comey said.

“We commend the FBI and the director on their decision to keep their word,” said Gov. Mike Pence, Donald Trump’s running mate.

Pence praised Comey’s decision.

“What the decision this week showed is even 11 days before an election, no one is above the law,” Pence said on “Face the Nation.”

Law enforcement sources said Abedin is cooperating. We’re told that she “seemed surprised” that the emails were on the laptop.