Editorial: The FBI overshares with Congress on Clinton email investigation


It’s not surprising that congressional Republicans would seek to lay hands on written records from the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of State. Even though they can’t undo the FBI’s recommendation that Clinton not be prosecuted for mishandling classified information — which already has been accepted by the Justice Department — obtaining the documents would make it easier for them to second-guess the decision. So why not keep the pot boiling?

More puzzling is why FBI Director James Comey agreed to provide the documents, which were turned over this week to congressional committees but not made public.

Clinton bears primary responsibility for the fact that what Bernie Sanders called her “damn emails” continue to pose a problem for her campaign.


We understand why Comey departed from usual practice in going public with his decision not to recommend any criminal charges against Clinton or her aides — an exercise in transparency that continued with his appearance before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last month to answer questions about his recommendation. Clinton, after all, is a presidential candidate and a former member of the president’s Cabinet.

But Comey indulged Congress too much by turning over documents relating to interviews with Clinton and other witnesses, a step that is unusual if not unprecedented.

Even if this information doesn’t leak — a big if, given the partisan passions surrounding the issue — turning over to a highly politicized congressional committee the content of FBI interviews could make witnesses in sensitive cases think twice about cooperating with investigators. Also, as Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) has warned, this could set a precedent in which the FBI is pressed to turn over closed case files whenever one party in Congress doesn’t like a prosecutorial decision.

There will be times when Congress can make a legitimate claim to inspect internal FBI documents — for example, when legitimate objections are raised about government misconduct or political bias or when Congress is concerned about patterns of behavior by agents. No such concerns exist in this case. Nor are these documents necessary for Republicans to pursue their (far-fetched) claim that Clinton committed perjury when she testified about her emails before the House Benghazi committee. (Republicans asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Clinton committed perjury more than a month ago.)

Clinton bears primary responsibility for the fact that what Bernie Sanders called her “damn emails” continue to pose a problem for her campaign. It isn’t just that she acted irresponsibly in conducting government business on a private and vulnerable email server. She also wrongly suggested that Comey had vouched for the truthfulness of all her public statements about her email use, not just her statements to the FBI. She later said that she may have “short-circuited” in discussing Comey’s comments.

But Republicans — including Republicans in Congress — are exploiting Clinton’s error for their own reasons. The FBI isn’t obligated to help them.


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