James Comey just made a big mistake on Hillary Clinton's emails

Story highlights

  • It's not clear what led Comey to offer such an exaggerated number during his testimony
  • In truth, it doesn't really matter why he screwed up

Washington (CNN)FBI Director James Comey told a Senate committee last week that "hundreds and thousands" of emails containing classified information had been forwarded from top Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin to the home computer she shared with her husband -- and one-time New York congressman -- Anthony Weiner.

Turns out that's not true, according to CNN's Evan Perez, who reported Tuesday that Comey had drastically overstated the number of emails Abedin had forwarded to Weiner and that the FBI was in the midst of trying to find a way to correct the record.
It's not clear what led Comey to offer such an exaggerated number during his testimony in front of the Senate judiciary committee. It could have been a simple error, the result of hours of questioning that was largely adversarial from senators in both parties.
In truth, it doesn't really matter why Comey screwed up -- even if the honest answer is that he had a brief mental lapse or got two figures confused in his head.
For Clinton and her allies, Comey's mistake is further evidence of his botched handling of the investigation into her private email server and the role he played -- wittingly or unwittingly -- in shaping the 2016 election.
Clinton, in a conversation with CNN's Christiane Amanpour last week, blamed Comey's letter to members of Congress on October 28 -- informing them that the Weiner-Abedin computer had been found and the investigation re-opened -- for her loss at the hands of Donald Trump.
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"I was on the way to winning until the combination of Jim Comey's letter on October 28 and Russian WikiLeaks raised doubts in the minds of people who were inclined to vote for me but got scared off," Clinton said. "And the evidence for that intervening event is compelling, persuasive."
Comey admitted in the Senate hearing that the decision on whether to inform Congress of the re-opened investigation or keep quiet until more could be known about the contents of the emails found on the Weiner-Abedin computer made him "mildly nauseous."
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But he went ahead with it anyway. And it turned out that the emails on that computer contained nothing new or revelatory. The FBI announced that on November 6, two days before the election.
That decision -- and the impact it clearly had on the election -- has been a very sore spot since November 8. This latest revelation -- that Comey overstated the number of emails that Abedin forwarded to Weiner -- will serve to grind salt into that still-raw wound.
And, more importantly, it will confirm for many Clinton loyalists that Comey knew exactly what he was doing when he sent that letter to Congress. That, contrary to Comey's assertion that "I can't consider for a second whose political fortunes will be affected in what way," he was totally aware that re-opening the investigation would have a negative impact on Clinton. And that he did it anyway.
Comey's detractors in Clintonworld have long cast his last-minute re-entry into the 2016 campaign as part of a pattern of behavior in which he seemed to go out of his way to cast her in a bad light. They note that in his July announcement that no charges would be filed against Clinton, he inexplicably decided to detail his own views of the situation -- calling her "extremely careless" in her handling of her private email server.
This misstatement by Comey further muddies the conversation about what exact role he played in the 2016 election and what role he wanted to play. And no matter where you come down on those questions, it's a bad day for the FBI director.