Former Federal Prosecutor Weighs In On Comey New Email Investigation Announcement
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
And we're going to turn now to the presidential race and the announcement from the FBI that the agency has new emails that could be connected to its investigation of Hillary Clinton's personal email server. The new emails came to light through a separate investigation into a sexting scandal by former Congressman Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of top Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin. The decision by FBI Director James Comey to make this information public has drawn criticism from some former federal prosecutors who say Comey has broken with agency protocol by inserting the FBI into politics just a little over a week before the presidential election.
We're joined now by Peter Zeidenberg. He spent 17 years at the Justice Department as a federal prosecutor. We should also note that he is supporting Hillary Clinton in the election. Thank you so much for being with us.
PETER ZEIDENBERG: Thank you.
MARTIN: I'll just ask you straight up - what do you make of Director Comey's decision to make this information public right now?
ZEIDENBERG: You know, I don't think it was a very good idea. I have a lot of respect for Jim Comey. I don't think he's doing this certainly for bad - with bad motives or bad purpose. But I do think it was a poor decision. The information that they provided just invites speculation without informing the public about what's going on. So I think it was premature to make any kind of an announcement when these emails haven't even been, according to press reports, looked at.
MARTIN: NPR has confirmed that by releasing this information, Director Comey was going against the recommendation of the attorney general, Loretta Lynch. How exceptional is that?
ZEIDENBERG: Very exceptional. I mean, this whole case is - you know, it's a one-off. You can't really look at precedent. But you can look at custom and practice. And it's just - you know, it's pretty extraordinary to really make an announcement like this 11 days before the election when the information is unknown. We don't know what's in these emails. We don't know if they're relevant. And from - according to press reports, there's a distinct possibility that all of them have been already reviewed. So if that turns out to be the case, then this was all for nothing.
MARTIN: We are forced, in some ways, to speculate a little bit here because you could imagine that if this information - if he feels that it's necessary to get it out, that if he didn't reveal it until after the election, others would say he had made a political choice by not releasing it to the public before the vote.
ZEIDENBERG: And to that I would say that the response by Director Comey at that point under your hypothetical would be there was nothing to announce. We found emails. We hadn't looked at them. We don't know what there was in them. We don't know if they were relevant. We don't know if they were classified. So to have announced - make this announcement before the election without having done the preliminary investigation and spadework would have been irresponsible. And I think that would have been - would he have been criticized? Yes. But I think it would have been a more defensible position than releasing it now when the work that was necessary to be done, I think, for releasing them hadn't been done.
MARTIN: You yourself have prosecuted some politically sensitive cases. Can you just briefly give us a sense of how seriously the FBI takes the issue of nonpartisanship?
ZEIDENBERG: Well, historically, that's certainly the case. The FBI is not a partisan organization. And this is unfortunate. The leaks, the - you know, the talking out of school is unusual and disappointing.
MARTIN: Peter Zeidenberg is a former prosecutor for the U.S. Department of Justice. Thank you so much for your time.
ZEIDENBERG: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.