US Elections 2016: Final countdown

Clinton allies step up attacks on FBI chief

Mr Comey being sworn in to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 7. The FBI director has been accused by Clinton allies of trying to influence the presidential election on Nov 8, by revealing that the FBI was restarting a probe into the forme
Mr Comey being sworn in to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 7. The FBI director has been accused by Clinton allies of trying to influence the presidential election on Nov 8, by revealing that the FBI was restarting a probe into the former secretary of state's use of a private e-mail server while in office.PHOTO: NYTIMES

Senate's top Democrat says director may have broken law by revealing probe on eve of election

WASHINGTON • Mrs Hillary Clinton's allies have dramatically escalated attacks on FBI director James Comey, in a bid to stem political damage from his disclosure that the agency would further probe her use of a private e-mail server.

Mr Harry Reid, the Senate's top Democrat, delivered an unusual rebuke to the Federal Bureau of Investigation chief in a letter that said Mr Comey might have broken the law by revealing the review so close to the election.

Mr Reid's scorching letter on Sunday was one of the most confrontational messages being delivered by Clinton supporters, who questioned the propriety of Mr Comey's disclosure.

The FBI has secured a new warrant to examine the newly discovered e-mails, a source familiar with the matter said. Agents will seek to determine whether the files contain classified information, but it is unclear whether they can finish their work before election day on Nov 8.

The latest probe led to a weekend of scrambling by both Mrs Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump.

The two campaigns responded by falling back on the familiar. After hitting back at Mr Comey last Friday and Saturday, Mrs Clinton moved on to reiterating her campaign's themes, leaving the attacks on the FBI director to her proxies.

In his letter, Mr Reid accused Mr Comey of a "disturbing double standard" that appears to be "a clear intent to aid one political party over another".

"My office has determined that these actions may violate the Hatch Act," Mr Reid wrote, referring to the statute that bars government officials from using their positions to influence an election. He also suggested that the agency is sitting on potentially damaging information about Mr Trump's alleged collusion with the Russian government.

One Democratic member of the House Judiciary Committee, Mr Steve Cohen, called for Mr Comey's resignation.

The Clinton campaign also highlighted an open letter signed by almost 100 former federal prosecutors and high-ranking Justice Department officials from both parties that questioned Mr Comey's decision.

"We cannot recall a prior instance where a senior Justice Department official - Republican or Democrat - has, on the eve of a major election, issued a public statement where the mere disclosure of information may impact the election's outcome, yet the official acknowledges the information to be examined may not be significant or new," the letter said.

The Washington Post said the e-mails were discovered weeks ago although the FBI director did not reveal the matter until last Friday.

People familiar with the case said FBI agents had known about the messages soon after they seized a laptop during their investigation of former congressman Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of Mrs Clinton's close aide, Ms Huma Abedin.

Mr Weiner has been accused of exchanging explicit messages with a 15-year-old girl.

Officials said the agents did not tell the director immediately because they were trying to better assess what they had.

The e-mail probe has allowed Mr Trump to renew his criticism of Mrs Clinton's trustworthiness. He called the matter "the biggest scandal since Watergate" and suggested, without supporting evidence, that the case against Mrs Clinton was now "so overwhelming".

His aides are said to be urging him to simply "be presidential" as they look to capitalise on an unexpected chance to get a second look from independent and undecided voters.

An ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll released on Sunday showed 46 per cent of voters supporting Mrs Clinton and 45 per cent supporting Mr Trump, although Mrs Clinton still appeared to have the clearest path to the 270 electoral college votes needed to win the presidency. A week ago, Mrs Clinton had a 12-point lead in the same poll.

Mrs Clinton, however, retained a 3 percentage point lead in a Politico/Morning Consult poll taken after Mr Comey's disclosure.

BLOOMBERG, WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 01, 2016, with the headline 'Clinton allies step up attacks on FBI chief'. Print Edition | Subscribe