Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said on Sunday that FBI Director James Comey may have violated the Hatch Act, barring political activity by federal employees, through a late election season letter to Congress about the scope of the bureau’s probe of Hillary Clinton’s private email service as secretary of state.
Comey’s letter on Friday to congressional committee chairs said the FBI is reviewing newly discovered emails that might be linked to Clinton’s private server. The new emails were found several weeks ago, law enforcement officials told CNN Sunday, but the FBI did not disclose them until Friday. The timing raises questions about why the information was released just days before the election.
“I am writing to inform you that my office has determined that these actions may violate the Hatch Act,” Reid said in his letter to Comey. “Through your partisan actions, you may have broken the law.”
There has been no immediate response from the FBI.
The Hatch Act prohibits FBI officials from using their official authority to influence an election. Reid said that by releasing this information, which he says is not conclusive or pertinent, Comey may have broken the law. Reid referenced a memo from Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates from March of this year that establishes all Justice Department employees, including Comey, are subject to the Hatch Act.
Reid accused Comey of having intent to aid one political party over the other in the election and called his behavior a “double standard” due to the fact that, as Reid claimed in the letter, Comey has information related to Donald Trump’s dealings with Russia.
“I wrote to you months ago calling for this information to be released to the public,” Reid writes. “And yet, you continue to resist calls to inform the public of this critical information.”
“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.”
Reid is not alone in claiming that Comey violated the Hatch Act. In a New York Times op-ed, Richard W. Painter, the chief White House ethics lawyer under George W. Bush from 2005 to 2007, says that he filed a complaint the F.B.I. with the Office of Special Counsel, which investigates Hatch Act violations.
“Violations of the Hatch Act and of government ethics rules on misuse of official positions are not permissible in any circumstances, including in the case of an executive branch official acting under pressure from politically motivated members of Congress,” Painter writes in his opinion. “Such violations are of even greater concern when the agency is the F.B.I.”
On Sunday night, Republicans came out in opposition to Reid’s letter. Among them was Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who tweeted, “Harry Reid is a disgrace to American politics, among worst men ever in Senate. He can’t go soon enough, & many Democrats privately agree.”
Reid is retiring at the end of this term, and a competitive race to fill his seat is currently taking place in Nevada.