As It Happens

Former Bush lawyer says FBI may have broken law over Clinton emails

By announcing a review of newly discovered emails, FBI Director James Comey threw the U.S. election into further chaos -- and according to Richard Painter, chief ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush, he may also have broken the law.
Richard Painter, former chief ethics lawyer under George W. Bush / James Comey, FBI Director (University of Minnesota / U.S. Department of Justice)

The FBI got their warrant.

On Friday, FBI Director James Comey informed Congress of some emails that might, or might not, be relevant to the Bureau's investigation of Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server. And with that, a new wave of speculation, suspicion, finger-pointing, and outrage began.

Now, dozens of former federal prosecutors are criticizing Comey's decision to bring up these emails just days before the  U.S. Presidential election.

Richard Painter, chief ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush, tells As It Happens host Carol Off that he has filed an official complaint against the FBI because he believes the director may have violated U.S. law.

​Richard Painter: I think this is entirely inappropriate, and I think a violation of the Hatch Act...which prohibits an executive branch official from using their official position to influence an election. And whether Director Comey wanted to influence the election or whether he's succumbing to pressure from members of Congress who want him to use his position that way -- he had no business writing that letter.

Carol Off: Why would the director of the FBI exert influence in the outcome of this election? 

RP: Two theories, one is that he actually has some animosity towards Secretary (Hillary) Clinton. It is true that he went further than he needed to go last July criticizing her. That's when he closed the investigation into the email server, and he made statements .almost never made by prosecutors when they decide not to pursue any charges against anybody. It was well beyond the scope of his authority. So he was already in the grey area there. And then this letter mentions Secretary Clinton when it's not her laptop -- the investigation is of Congressman (Anthony) Weiner, for sexting.

Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin on July 23, 2013 in New York City (Getty Images)

CO: Is it possible that Mr. Comey has made this statement to Congress because it was likely that these emails from their investigation of Mr. Weiner might have been leaked, and then the FBI would look as thought they were trying to hide something? 

RP: I don't know what would've been leaked. We all knew that they were investigating Mr. Weiner. We already knew that he was married to one of Clinton's aides (Huma Abedin). Everybody knew all that.

CO: In what way do you think this announcement, so close to the final day of voting, will have on the outcome?

RP: I fear a backlash against my own party, the Republican Party, for abuse of power. We've chosen a very bad presidential candidate. We've never had in the United States a major party candidate make the kinds of statements Donald Trump has made made...it's never happened.

Donald Trump, Republican Party presidential nominee / Hillary Clinton, Democratic Party presidential nominee (Getty Images)

CO: And just to be clear, you are convinced that the FBI has been used, or it is using its powers, in order to influence this election?

RP: Well it's certainly being used by members of Congress, who should not be allowed to do this. Imagine if Democratic members of Congress were demanding access to Donald Trump's FBI file. Or demanding information about the FBI's investigation of whether anybody in Trump's campaign is helping the Russians hack those computers. And I know Harry Reid and some other Democrats are starting to demand that information and what the FBI should tell them is: "absolutely not, it was wrong of us to send that letter. The Weiner investigation has nothing to do with Clinton. And we're not going to tell you anything about Trump. Talk to you on November 9th!"    

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