Election 2020

Holder: Comey Must 'Correct His Mistake' to 'Protect Our System of Justice'

Former Attorney General Eric Holder speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on July 26, 2016. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON — Former Attorney General Eric Holder openly criticized FBI Director James Comey in a Washington Post op-ed for violating “long-standing Justice Department policies and tradition” with his “vague” letter to Congress about new emails connected to the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private server.

Comey advised eight GOP committee chairmen — Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), and House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Chairman John Culberson (R-Texas) — in a letter Friday that he wanted to “supplement my previous testimony” on Clinton’s personal email server.

“In connection with an unrelated case, the FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation,” Comey wrote. “I am writing to inform you that the investigative team briefed me on this yesterday, and I agreed that the FBI should take appropriate investigative steps designed to allow investigators to review these emails to determine whether they contain classified information, as well as to assess their importance to our investigation.”

“Although the FBI cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant, and I cannot predict how long it will take us to complete this additional work, I believe it is important to update your Committees about our efforts in light of my previous testimony.”

Comey followed this up with a letter to FBI employees explaining his decision.

“Of course, we don’t ordinarily tell Congress about ongoing investigations, but here I feel an obligation to do so given that I testified repeatedly in recent months that our investigation was completed. I also think it would be misleading to the American people were we not to supplement the record,” Comey wrote to staff. “At the same time, however, given that we don’t know the significance of this newly discovered collection of emails, I don’t want to create a misleading impression.  In trying to strike that balance, in a brief letter and in the middle of an election season, there is significant risk of being misunderstood, but I wanted you to hear directly from me about it.”

Holder wrote in the Post that he’s “deeply concerned” that “that decision was incorrect.”

“It ran counter to guidance that I put in place four years ago laying out the proper way to conduct investigations during an election season. That guidance, which reinforced established policy, is still in effect and applies to the entire Justice Department — including the FBI,” the former attorney general wrote. “The department has a practice of not commenting on ongoing investigations. Indeed, except in exceptional circumstances, the department will not even acknowledge the existence of an investigation. The department also has a policy of not taking unnecessary action close in time to Election Day that might influence an election’s outcome.”

Holder charged that Comey “broke with these fundamental principles” and may have “unintentionally and negatively affected public trust in both the Justice Department and the FBI.”

“And he has allowed — again without improper motive — misinformation to be spread by partisans with less pure intentions. Already, we have learned that the importance of the discovery itself may have been overblown,” he continued. “According to the director himself, there is no indication yet that the ‘newly discovered’ emails bear any significance at all. And yet, because of his decision to comment on this development before sufficient facts were known, the public has faced a torrent of conspiracy theories and misrepresentations.”

Holder added that Comey’s July press conference in which he announced the findings of the investigation into Clinton’s email server — and expressed his opinions on the former secretary of State’s carelessness in using the server — was “a stunning breach of protocol” that “may set a dangerous precedent for future investigations” and “was wrong.”

“Any comments should have come from the attorney general or deputy attorney general, the people who always communicate prosecutorial decisions made by the department,” he stressed. “And let me be clear: Far less than that which was shared in the July news conference, and afterward, should have been revealed.”

Holder said he knows Comey well and “this is a very difficult piece for me to write,” as “he is a man of integrity and honor.”

“I respect him. But good men make mistakes. In this instance, he has committed a serious error with potentially severe implications,” he continued. “It is incumbent upon him — or the leadership of the department — to dispel the uncertainty he has created before Election Day. It is up to the director to correct his mistake — not for the sake of a political candidate or campaign but in order to protect our system of justice and best serve the American people.”