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What James Comey’s FBI Letter Actually Says, Because It's Not What It Seems

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On Friday, the case of The Email Scandal That Would Not Die got another twist, with FBI Director James Comey announcing that his agency was looking into new evidence about Hillary Clinton's emails. But everyone shouting "Lock her up!" might want to hold on for a moment, because closer examination shows that James Comey's new FBI letter about Clinton is not as damning as it might initially seem.

Earlier this year, Comey recommended that the Justice Department not press charges against Clinton for her use of a private email server, although he did call her actions "extremely careless." Then, on Friday, Comey sent a letter to eight congressional committee chairmen saying that the FBI had "learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation," and that it would be reviewing them to see if they were relevant and/or contained classified information. He added that it was currently unclear whether the emails were significant, and that he did not know how quickly the FBI would be able to complete its investigation.

The news was immediately seized upon by Republicans ready to proclaim Clinton's guilt. Why else would Comey be "reopening" the case a mere 11 days before the election?

But the case is not being formally reopened. As CNN's Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Scuitto points out, it's "more accurate to say [the FBI] is reviewing new emails related to the probe," and the FBI letter does not say anything about the information's actual credibility.

Moreover, multiple outlets are now reporting that the new emails didn't actually come from Clinton's server. Instead, they were apparently found on devices seized from Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin in an investigation of Weiner's sexting. (Of course Anthony Weiner found his way into this.) So it seems that Clinton didn't actually withhold these emails.

In an email statement, Clinton campaign chair John Podesta said,

Newsweek pointed out that Comey was legally required to notify Congress of any new evidence, regardless of its validity or significance. And if he had withheld it until after the election, and people found out, he and the FBI could have lost all credibility.

Unfortunately, the initial headlines may have done damage to the Clinton campaign despite lack of evidence of any wrongdoing. But moving forward, the key thing to know is that the whole situation is confusing and vague, and nobody should jump to conclusions just yet.