WASHINGTON • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) chief James Comey faced a dilemma when deputies briefed him about a new trove of e-mail possibly linked to the dormant inquiry into Mrs Hillary Clinton's private e-mail server.
Mr Comey could immediately inform Congress last Thursday about the e-mail and risk claims that he was unfairly harming her presidential campaign less than two weeks before the election. Or he could delay any announcement and examine the new e-mail more closely, risking criticism that he had suppressed important new information if it came out after the election.
And now he is now facing attacks from both Democrats and Republicans who want more details of what he knows.
Justice Department officials were said to be deeply upset about Mr Comey's decision to go to Congress last Friday with the new information before it had been adequately investigated.
That decision, said several officials who spoke on condition of anonymity, appeared to contradict long-standing Justice Department guidelines discouraging any actions close to an election that could influence the outcome.
One official complained that no one at the FBI or the Justice Department is even sure yet whether any of the e-mail included national security material or was relevant to the earlier investigation into whether Mrs Clinton had mishandled classified material in her use of a private e-mail server.
"The FBI has a history of extreme caution near Election Day so as not to influence the results," said Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein.
The "break from that tradition is appalling".
Some Republicans praised Mr Comey for his integrity and independence in coming forward with the new information. But praise was largely drowned out by criticism, with even some of Mrs Clinton's biggest opponents upset at his sudden re-emergence in what they said was a bungled case.
"This is as bad for Comey as it is for Hillary," said Mr Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, an advocacy group that has successfully sued for access to thousands of Mrs Clinton's private e-mail.
Mr Fitton said the cryptic nature of Mr Comey's letter to Congress begged for an explanation as to what new material the FBI had found, whether it involved national security material relevant to the initial investigation and why it was not found earlier.
"They can't roll this out in the middle of a presidential campaign and just leave it at that," Mr Fitton said.
Mr Comey had this summer decided not to seek criminal charges against Mrs Clinton or anyone else after a year-long inquiry.