02:37 - Source: CNN
How Clinton & Trump talk about the FBI

Story highlights

Document dump on Clinton pardon enrages Democrats

FBI is suddenly in the center of the presidential race

Washington CNN —  

The FBI is in a political hole – and can’t seem to stop digging.

Hillary Clinton’s supporters were already fuming after FBI Director James Comey revived the specter of her email scandal in the tense final days of the presidential election, a move that played right into Donald Trump’s hands.

But their frustrations – and suspicions – intensified Tuesday when the FBI suddenly released redacted files about its 2001 probe into President Bill Clinton’s pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich. In an election hinging on voter perceptions of character and trustworthiness, the move revived memories of yet another political fracas surrounding the Clinton family.

That leaves the FBI in an unprecedented position: very publicly at the center of a presidential race one week out from the election. The apolitical agency’s actions over the past four days are leaving the FBI exposed to arguments from Democrats – and some Republicans – that it is improperly intervening in the fight between Clinton and Trump.

And it ensures that Comey, who was once a registered Republican and contributed to GOP nominees John McCain and Mitt Romney, will remain in the spotlight for the remainder of the campaign.

Hillary Clinton’s challenge: Shift focus back to Trump

“It’s another very puzzling development. We are in the final stages of an important presidential campaign,” Hakeem Jeffries, a Democratic congressman from New York who supports Clinton, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room.” “Because of the FBI’s actions, we are talking about emails, Anthony Weiner and a 15-year-old pardon.”

He continued: “That doesn’t make any sense and it undermines the integrity of the democratic process. The FBI and the director owe the American people an explanation as to what is going on.”

No political motive

The FBI sought to make clear there was no political motive around the sudden appearance of the Rich documents, saying they were released in line with procedures relating to Freedom of Information Act filings.

“These materials became available for release and were posted automatically and electronically to the FBI’s public reading room in accordance with the law and established procedures,” the statement said.

But before the statement, Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon questioned the timing of the release — nearly 16 years after Bill Clinton left the White House but only seven days before the election involving his wife.

“Absent a FOIA litigation deadline, this is odd. Will FBI be posting docs on Trump’s housing discrimination in ‘70s?” Fallon tweeted.

Comey, the most powerful FBI director since J. Edgar Hoover, has long been seen as someone who plays it by the book. But the recent controversy has moved the FBI deeper into the partisan crossfire where his legendary predecessor operated for half-a-century.

The new review of emails potentially tied to Clinton’s private server won’t likely be finished before Tuesday’s election.

Paul Ryan avoids talking Trump as he stumps for a GOP White House

But it’s not just the email issue that is infuriating Democrats.

The FBI’s refusal to comment on several pending investigations into prominent members of Republican nominee Donald Trump’s orbit is also causing waves.

Democrats want to know why Comey notified Congress about the new email situation but won’t spill details of investigations into alleged Kremlin ties of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, and former foreign policy advisor Carter Page.

Legal and intelligence considerations may prevent Comey from revealing those details.

But that reality is unlikely to placate Democrats who are watching Clinton’s lead over Trump ebb in national polls.

’This needs to stop’

“This needs to stop. Director Comey has called for transparency, but has now withdrawn from public view,” Rep. Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement. “The American people need to know why he decided to withhold information about Russian interference while reigniting email hysteria without any substantiation. He needs to clean up this mess.”

The FBI has been conducting multiple investigations that include allegations of connections between Russia and the Trump campaign or people who support his candidacy, according to CNN sources. None so far have yielded proof of criminal connections between the Russian government and the Republican nominee or his campaign.

Former CIA acting director Michael Morell, a Clinton supporter, vigorously criticized Comey, his former colleague in the intelligence community, over his actions on the email situation.

“I think he was trying to protect his organization,” Morell said in an interview with David Axelrod for his “The Axe Files” podcast. “But as (former Attorney General) Eric Holder wrote in The Washington Post over the weekend in response to Comey’s actions, people make mistakes. And I think (Comey) made a series of terrible mistakes here.”

Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook also laid into Comey. On CNN’s “New Day,” he complained of a double standard operating for Clinton and Trump.

“We just want fairness,” Mook said. Comey “thought it was perfectly fine for the FBI to send a letter to Capitol Hill about information they had never looked at and say, ‘Hey, we have some information, Republican Chairmen.’”

But GOP Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, dismissed suggestions that Comey had parachuted into the final stage of a presidential race to play politics.

’Known for his integrity’

“When it comes to Jim Comey, I have known him for 20 years,” McCaul told Blitzer. “He has always been known for his integrity, a straight shooter … he is not a partisan guy, you have had Republicans mad at him and now Democrats.”

And one prominent Democrat, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, warned the Clinton campaign’s attacks on Comey could backfire.

“I wouldn’t do that,” Rendell said on 1210 WPHT Philadelphia radio. “Again, you know, I’m not running the campaign by any means, but I wouldn’t do that.”

Rendell, however, allowed that “the more that comes out about this, the stranger it is,” he said. “Like the agents had this material or knew about the existence of the material at the beginning of October and didn’t tell the director until the end of October. That makes no sense at all.”

Amid the political turmoil, Comey came face-to-face with some of his critics Tuesday, including former attorneys general Holder and Michael Mukasey, at a memorial service for former prosecutor David Margolis at the Great Hall of the Justice Department.

No one mentioned the current storm swirling around the FBI.

But Comey, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and several other speakers noted the department’s ideals of pursuing the rule of law no matter which political party is in power.