WASHINGTON — FBI Director James Comey’s brief Sunday notice to Congress, effectively ending the bureau’s revived examination of Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information, may have provided major relief for the Democratic presidential nominee.
But the unusual nine-day episode also is likely to have lasting consequences for the FBI and the director whose 10-year tenure runs until 2023.
Comey’s startling Oct. 28 decision to open a new review into newly discovered emails, recovered in a separate investigation into the estranged husband of a top Clinton aide, has generated fresh rebukes — mostly from Democratic lawmakers — whose previous strong support gave Comey, a Republican, made-man status on Capitol Hill.
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a prominent member of the Senate Judiciary Committee which oversees the FBI, said the director's Sunday decision only raised more "troubling'' concerns about his move to notify Congress of the new review nine days before.
“There’s no doubt that it created a false impression about the nature of the agency’s inquiry,'' Feinstein said. "I believe the Justice Department needs to take a look at its procedures to prevent similar actions that could influence future elections.’’
Calls for fresh inquiries have also come from Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee, and Michigan Rep. John Conyers, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. Both are seeking an internal Justice Department inquiry into whether the FBI leaked information to the Trump campaign regarding the politically charged email inquiry in the final days of the contentious general election.
"In the days that come,'' Conyers said, "we will have many questions about the FBI's handling of this investigation.''
It is rare when Democrats and Republicans agree on anything, but the demand for more information from Comey and the FBI has apparently united both.
Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and long one of the most strident critics of bureau operations, described Comey's Sunday letter as just "another vague announcement.''
“For months now, I’ve been urging the FBI to provide details regarding the scope of its investigation,'' Grassley said. "The American people deserve to know whether the FBI sought to determine if Secretary Clinton and her aides deliberately maneuvered around federal open records laws or congressional investigations.''
Yet while Congress could tie up the bureau for months in protracted hearings and requests for investigations by the Justice Department's inspector general, analysts said Monday that Comey and the FBI face a much more consequential test from the candidate who wins the White House.
"I don't know how you work with a Clinton White House after this,'' said Jim Davis, a former FBI official who served as a spokesperson for the bureau. "But then again, I don't know how you work with a Donald Trump White House.''
After lauding Comey and the FBI for conducting the new email review, Trump returned Monday to casting doubt on the legitimacy of the bureau's actions and suggesting that official Washington was protecting Clinton.
Recalling the often-frosty relationship between the FBI and White House during the administration of former president Bill Clinton, Ron Hosko, former FBI assistant director, said Clinton's election makes the path forward for Comey more difficult.
"There will certainly be a discussion after the election, you have to think, about how the White House moves forward with the FBI,'' Hosko said.
A federal law enforcement official familiar with Comey's thinking said Monday that the director remains committed to serving the full seven years remaining in his term. While certainly conscious of the clock ticking toward Election Day, the official, who is not authorized to comment publicly, said the decision, which was rendered unexpectedly Sunday, was delivered when the inquiry was finished.
The same investigative team that worked the yearlong inquiry that was closed in July with Comey's recommendation that criminal charges not be pursued, was largely the same group that completed the new review, with technical assistance drawn from across the FBI and Justice Department, the official said.
When the work was completed, the official said, the conclusion had to be delivered.