Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) claimed that a letter from FBI Director James Comey indicated that the FBI had “reopened” its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state, triggering a media firestorm. But Comey’s letter says no such thing, and according to CBS News, it’s “premature” and “going too far” to say the investigation has been “reopened.”
This afternoon, Comey released a letter to congressional leaders stating, “In connection with an unrelated case, the FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation” and “I agreed that the FBI should take appropriate investigative steps designed to allow investigators to review these emails to determine whether they contain classified information, as well as to assess their importance to our investigation.” Comey noted that he was not sure how long the review will take and the FBI “cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant.”
In other words, all the FBI has announced is that they have found new emails that “appear” related to their investigation and may contain classified information and they are looking at them, but as of yet they don’t even know if the emails are significant.
Rep. Chaffetz, who serves as the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, announced “case reopened” around the time Comey’s letter became public:
FBI Dir just informed me, “The FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation.” Case reopened
— Jason Chaffetz (@jasoninthehouse) October 28, 2016
Chaffetz’s spin doesn’t come as a surprise. In an interview with The Washington Post this week, he announced plans to launch years of investigations in the event Clinton is elected president, telling the paper in an interview, “Even before we get to Day One, we’ve got two years’ worth of material already lined up. She has four years of history at the State Department, and it ain’t good.”
Chaffetz’s spin has triggered an avalanche of breathless coverage. Many news outlets quickly reported that the FBI had “reopened” their investigation, including Politico, Fox News, NPR, USA Today, among others. All three cable news networks have covered the story non-stop since it broke, often adopting the “re-opening” framing and suggesting the news is a major election bombshell. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump himself subsequently echoed that language, adding that Clinton’s actions were “worse than Watergate.”
But despite the coverage that echoed Rep. Chaffetz’s characterization of Comey’s letter, CBS Justice/Homeland Security correspondent Jeff Pegues reported that sources told him that it was both “premature” and “going too far” to declare that the investigation had been reopened. (While Pegues delivered his report, CBS on-screen text declared “Clinton Investigation Reopened.”
On MSNBC Live, NBC Justice Department correspondent Pete Williams reported that Comey’s July announcement that there would be no charges in the case effectively concluded the case but there are remaining “evidentiary matters” to be resolved before it can be considered fully closed.
But Williams noted that if the review is pertaining to the amount of classified emails sent, it would not change the earlier determination that a chargeable offense had not occurred. Williams also reported that “senior officials” have told him that it doesn’t appear that the Clintons, the Clinton campaign or the State Department had failed to hand over emails to the FBI and that the agency had found them some other way.