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Interpreting the FBI’s announcement on Clinton’s private server

October 28, 2016 at 6:40 PM EDT
Director James Comey announced the FBI will review a new batch of emails apparently related to Hillary Clinton’s private server. The messages were discovered in an unrelated investigation concerning former Democratic congressman Anthony Weiner’s alleged communication with a 15-year-old girl. To discuss the startling development, Judy Woodruff speaks with the Wall Street Journal’s Devlin Barrett.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We return to today’s revelation that the FBI will review newly discovered emails connected to Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information.

To help us unpack what we know is Devlin Barrett, reporter with The Wall Street Journal.

Devlin, welcome back to the “NewsHour.”

So, where did these emails come from?

DEVLIN BARRETT, The Wall Street Journal: I’m told that these emails were found on a personal laptop that was shared by a key Clinton aide, Huma Abedin, and her then husband — they are now separated — Anthony Weiner, who is a former congressman.

The backstory here is that Mr. Weiner is under investigation for allegedly sexting with potentially an underaged girl. And so they looked at that laptop as part of that investigation and found a whole slew of emails that — some of which, I’m told, include Ms. Abedin’s having work discussions on email.

And now they have to go through these thousands of emails to see if any of them might contain classified or any other information that the investigators would consider instructive to the email investigation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, it’s thousands of emails? Is that what they’re saying?

DEVLIN BARRETT: Well, right. There’s thousands of emails on the laptop, I’m told, but they have to go through and figure out how many of those are her work discussions. And that number, I’m told, hasn’t been calculated yet.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But this investigation into Hillary Clinton’s confidential emails has been going on for some time. They’re just now looking at this particular laptop?


I’m told investigators in the original Clinton email investigation were not aware of this device being used for any State Department work discussions at the time they did that investigation. I’m told that the FBI essentially only realized that they had possession of these work discussions, these email work discussions earlier this week.

So, there’s been, frankly, a bit of a scramble in the FBI in the last few days to, one, figure out what they have and then figure out what to do about it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, as we say, this happens 11 days before the presidential election? This has to do with one of the two nominees for president.

Did the FBI say anything to you about the timing of this and whether that affected their decision?

DEVLIN BARRETT: They’re not saying anything publicly.

What I’m told is that they considered the possibility of just reviewing the material and then telling just — and then Congress later. I think the decision they came to, though, was that they’d rather take whatever grief they’re going to take for saying this now than be accused after the election of having held it back, having sat on something important, and wait until the election was over to tell people.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, so we have the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign and a number of others saying, we want to see what that is; it’s not fair…


JUDY WOODRUFF: … that you’re announcing you’re doing this without letting us see what’s there.

What do they say to that?

DEVLIN BARRETT: Well, right.

And I think the challenge for both campaigns is that they get to talk to this without knowing what the underlying facts are. But, frankly, it’s not — from my understanding, is that the FBI doesn’t really know what the underlying facts are yet. That’s what they’re trying to figure out.

So, I think, frankly, it is going to be a political football for the rest of this time, and it’s obviously politically a very big deal. What no one knows — and I suspect not even the FBI really knows at this point — is, is it a big deal legally? Does it have a legal consequence? It will almost certainly have a political consequence, but it’s not clear at all yet if this will have a legal consequence.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And how long do they think this is going to take to go through these emails?

DEVLIN BARRETT: Well, there’s two steps.

First, you have to figure out, OK, find the universe of work emails. Then you have to figure out, OK, is any of the information classified? Classification reviews can take weeks or months. So, if there are things that are potentially classified, we may not know that for months.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, they are going — they have already begun the process, is that right, of going through what’s on this laptop.


JUDY WOODRUFF: And who’s doing the work?

DEVLIN BARRETT: Well, it’s the FBI investigators. It’s the folks who did the original email investigation. And they’re now going through.

And one thing they don’t know is how many of the emails on that laptop are possibly copies of emails they have already seen earlier in the investigation?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Where she might have copied herself or copied…


DEVLIN BARRETT: Right, if there is emails between two people, those emails exist on two computers. So maybe what they have is a lot of copies. But they to figure that out.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it certainly has opened up a whole new set of questions as we get closer to Election Day.

Devlin Barrett with The Wall Street Journal, thank you.