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Comey Disclosure in Clinton Case Puts Him in Spotlight Again

FBI Director James Comey testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 7, 2016, before the House Oversight Committee to explain his agency's recommendation to not prosecute Hillary Clinton.
FBI Director James Comey testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 7, 2016, before the House Oversight Committee to explain his agency's recommendation to not prosecute Hillary Clinton.

U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey's announcement that his bureau was reviewing new emails possibly relevant to Hillary Clinton's private email server investigation has thrust him into the public spotlight again just days before Election Day.

Comey said in a letter Friday to Congress that the FBI had uncovered email messages in an unrelated case and would determine if they were classified. The surprise disclosure was seized upon by eager Republicans while drawing criticism from Clinton supporters, who said the lack of detail could unfairly sway the presidential election.

Comey acknowledged later that he faced a "significant risk of being misunderstood." He told FBI employees the bureau did not yet know the significance of the emails but that he felt obligated to disclose the information.

The 55-year-old former Republican was nominated by President Barack Obama for the FBI post in 2013. Praised for his independence and integrity, Comey has spent three decades in law enforcement and has been no stranger to controversy.

Some career highlights:


Comey is perhaps best known for a remarkable 2004 standoff with top officials in the George W. Bush administration over a federal domestic surveillance program.

As the deputy attorney general, Comey rushed to the hospital bed of Attorney General John Ashcroft to physically stop White House officials in their bid to get his ailing boss to reauthorize a secret no-warrant wiretapping program.

Comey described the incident in 2007 testimony to Congress, explaining that he believed the spy program put in place after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks was legally questionable.

When he learned that Andrew Card, the president's chief of staff, and Alberto Gonzales, the White House counsel, were heading to Ashcroft's hospital room despite his wife's instructions that there be no visitors, Comey told Congress, Comey beat them there and watched as Ashcroft turned them away.

"That night was probably the most difficult night of my professional life," Comey said.


Comey irritated Obama officials after he suggested last year that increases in violent crime across the country could be fueled in part by anxiety among law enforcement officers who increasingly fear being recorded by citizens.

Reiterating that view in May, Comey said officers may hesitate to get out of their patrol vehicles to interact with people. His comments came in the wake of episodes of police violence, several against African-Americans, that spurred outcry and in some cases riots.

"I'm not against videotaping police, I'm not against scrutiny. We get better that way," Comey said. "What I'm asking is, is there something unintentional affecting our communities that is contributing to the spike in violent crime?"

That position put him at odds with his boss, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, as well as the White House, which said the remarks lacked evidence and could undermine their efforts to revamp the criminal justice system.


The FBI director clashed with the technology industry in a legal battle over access to the work-issued iPhone of San Bernardino, California, shooter Syed Farook.

As the public face of the federal government, Comey went to court earlier this year to force Apple Inc. to help it open the locked iPhone by Farook after the California attack last December, which killed 14 people. Farook and his wife died in a gun battle with police.

Apple accused the government in court filings of seeking "dangerous power," a high-stakes dispute pitting national security against digital privacy. Comey said the issue was the "hardest question I've seen in government."

A federal magistrate granted Comey's request, but the court fight ended weeks later when an unidentified third party came forward with a solution to access the device.


Prior to Friday's announcement, Comey had received criticism from both parties over the FBI's handling of the yearlong investigation into Clinton's email account as secretary of state.

Comey announced in July that the FBI was recommending no criminal charges for Clinton's handling of highly classified material in a private email account. That drew the dismay of Republicans in a presidential election year, who said the FBI director may have unnecessarily rushed a decision without a more complete airing of the evidence.

Comey in his announcement also harshly criticized Clinton's "extremely careless" behavior, irritating Democrats who said the comments were unwarranted since she was not being charged.

The FBI director's decision came after his boss, Attorney General Lynch, said she would accept whatever findings Comey presented to her. Lynch herself had been criticized for an impromptu meeting with former President Bill Clinton on her airplane in Phoenix that she acknowledged had led to questions about the neutrality of the investigation.