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Story highlights

Clinton's allies lambasted Comey

Trump and his surrogates largely dropped their long-standing attacks on the FBI director

(CNN) —  

Suddenly, the figure at the center of the 2016 presidential race isn’t even running for office.

James Comey’s revelation Friday that the bureau is reviewing newly discovered emails that might be linked to Hillary Clinton’s private server made the FBI director’s unusual actions the focus on Sunday news programs and on the campaign trail.

The new emails were found weeks ago, law enforcement officials told CNN Sunday. But the FBI didn’t disclose them until Friday, raising questions about why the information was kept under wraps and then released just days before the election.

Clinton’s allies lambasted Comey – characterizing him as inappropriately acting outside Justice Department protocol and against the wishes of his superiors – as they sought to shame him into revealing more details about what, exactly, the FBI has discovered.

“He might have taken the first step of actually having looked at them (the emails) before he did this in the middle of a presidential campaign, so close to the voting,” Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.”

Donald Trump and his surrogates, meanwhile, largely dropped their long-standing attacks on the FBI director over his July announcement that he wasn’t recommending criminal charges against Clinton – which Comey defended in congressional hearings.

“I guess he was trying to clear his own conscience,” Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said on “State of the Union.”

Clinton herself was mum on the issue on the campaign trail on Sunday in Fort Lauderdale, while Trump continued to pound away on the email issue for a third straight day during an appearance in Las Vegas.

The intense focus on the FBI director just nine days from the November 8 election comes with Clinton’s campaign hoping his letter to Congress won’t be Comey’s last word on the topic.

The emails were discovered in the FBI’s investigation into Anthony Weiner, the former New York congressman who is alleged to have exchanged lewd messages with a 15-year-old girl. The FBI discovered the emails on a computer shared by Weiner and his now-estranged wife, top Clinton aide Huma Abedin.

The hubris of the 2016 candidates

Democrats didn’t try to hide their frustration with Comey over his revelation that emails had been found – with no further details on whether Clinton is connected or what the emails contain.

In an interview on ABC’s “This Week,” Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine called Comey’s Friday letter “extremely puzzling” and an “unprecedented move … because it happens close to an election, which is in violation of normal Justice Department protocol. And it involves talking about an ongoing investigation, which also violates the protocol.”

“And as far as we know now, Director Comey knows nothing about the content of these emails. We don’t know whether they’re to or from Hillary at all,” Kaine said.

He called on the FBI to make an expedited effort to review the new emails.

“If he (Comey) hasn’t seen the emails, I mean they need to make that completely plain – then they should work to see the emails and release the circumstances of those once they have done that analysis,” he said.

Kaine also rejected arguments that Comey had little option – and would have faced withering criticism had he waited until after the election of a new president to disclose the review.

“The issue for the FBI director is not whether somebody would criticize him. The issue for the FBI director is, is he following established protocols for a law enforcement investigation?” Kaine said.

“You know, criticism comes with the territory, but you can’t tack and move one direction or the next to avoid criticism,” he said. “Following established protocols and rules is what you would expect from a chief law enforcement official.”

And early Sunday evening Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid sent a scorching letter to Comey, alleging political interference in the presidential campaign. The Nevada Democrat invoked the Hatch Act,

“I am writing to inform you that my office has determined that these actions may violate the Hatch Act,” which bars government officials from using their position to influence an election.

Reid said “it has become clear you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors and the Russian government…and yet you continue to resist calls to inform the public of this critical information.”

He added: “By contrast, as soon as you came into possession of the slightest innuendo related to Secretary Clinton, you rushed to publicize it in the most negative light possible.”

“Moreover, in tarring Secretary Clinton with thin innuendo, you overruled longstanding tradition and the explicit guidance of your own Department,” he added.

“The clear double-standard established by your actions strongly suggests that your highly selective approach to publicizing information, along with your timing, was intended for the success or failure of a partisan candidate or political group,” he later said in the letter.

The FBI had no immediate response to Reid’s letter.

Trump’s supporters, seizing on a political gift that came just as the race appeared to be slipping out of the Republican nominee’s reach, heaped praise on Comey – saying he’d righted a wrong just in time.

Obama to Clinton volunteers: Ignore ‘noise and distractions’

“I think what you see here is an example of real leadership,” Mike Pence, the GOP vice presidential nominee, said on “Fox News Sunday.”

He cast it as correcting the FBI’s July decision not to recommend charges against Clinton.

“It was just incomprehensible this summer, when the director of the FBI came out and he literally indicted Hillary Clinton in the press and then said we’re not recommending that she be indicted,” Pence said.

Comey’s actions are drawing intense scrutiny beyond the campaign trail.

He faces criticism within the law enforcement community – and the Justice Department.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch and her deputy, Sally Yates, disagreed with Comey outlining how the FBI was dealing the review of emails, according to law enforcement officials familiar with the discussion.

Comey notified Congress anyway, going against what an agency official said was longstanding Justice Department and FBI practice to not comment publicly about politically sensitive investigations within 60 days of an election.

Comey acknowledged a balance he was trying to strike in a letter to bureau employees.

“We don’t ordinarily tell Congress about ongoing investigations, but here I feel an obligation to do so given that I testified repeatedly in recent months that our investigation was completed,” Comey wrote. “I also think it would be misleading to the American people were we not to supplement the record.

“At the same time, however, given that we don’t know the significance of this newly discovered collection of emails, I don’t want to create a misleading impression. In trying to strike that balance, in a brief letter and in the middle of an election season, there is significant risk of being misunderstood, but I wanted you to hear directly from me about it,” he continued.

The question now is whether Comey will once again emerge with new details – particularly as Democrats press him to reveal Clinton’s role in the new email discovery.

“If he doesn’t come out and get all the information on the table, he’s going to let anyone, any conspiracy theory, take the day,” said Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

CNN’s Kevin Bohn contributed to this report.