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Hillary Clinton's latest email controversy, what we know

Lauren Carroll
By Lauren Carroll October 30, 2016

It seemed the controversy over Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server reached a standstill in July after FBI Director James Comey said she should not be prosecuted.

But a letter Comey sent to Congress Oct. 28 has thrust Clinton’s questionable email setup back into the headlines, with just over a week to go until Election Day.

The letter said that the FBI may have found new emails relevant to its probe into the private email server that Clinton used while secretary of state. The FBI plans to review these new emails to see if they contain classified information.

What are the facts of the case? We have 11 questions (and answers) to get you up to speed on the latest developments. We'll add to this list as more information becomes available. If you have specific questions you want answered, email us at [email protected].

What did the letter from Comey say?

Comey’s three-paragraph letter said the FBI found, while investigating a different case, emails that "appear to be pertinent" to the Clinton email investigation. The FBI plans to examine the emails to see if they are relevant to the investigation and whether they contain classified information.

What didn't the letter say?

There’s a lot the brief letter doesn’t say: where the FBI found these additional emails, whether Clinton sent or received any of them, what the emails say and whether they are significant. The FBI has not provided additional information.

The Clinton campaign says Comey's letter is against Justice Department protocols and policies about discussing an ongoing investigation so close to an election. Is that true?

This claim is Mostly True. The Justice Department, which oversees the FBI, prohibits its employees from interfering with elections. That policy generally has included being sensitive about what information is released about pending or active investigations in the days and weeks leading up to the election.

However, there is no hard and fast rule, and an expert told PolitiFact that Comey has the ability to exercise his judgment based on the facts as he knows them.

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Clinton also said the letter from FBI Director Comey only went to Republicans. Is that true?

Clinton’s claim is False. The letter was addressed at the top to the chairmen of various congressional committees, who are all currently Republican. But the second page of the letter indicates that Comey also circulated the letter to ranking Democrats on those committees, as well. Clinton’s campaign said she misspoke.

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Did the FBI "reopen" the Clinton email investigation?

Some say yes, others (including the Clinton campaign) say no. Neither Comey’s letter to Congress nor a subsequent memo he sent to FBI employees specifies whether the case is "reopened."

"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," Comey wrote to Congress.

Comey told Congress in July, when he made the recommendation not to pursue criminal charges against anyone involved in the Clinton email setup, that the investigation was closed. He reiterated that point in September testimony before Congress.

At that September congressional hearing, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, asked Comey if he would "reopen the Clinton investigation if you discovered new information that was both relevant and substantial."

"I don't think we can answer that in the abstract," Comey said. "What we can say is if any investigation of people have new and substantial information, we'd like to see it so we can make an evaluation."

Are these different emails than the ones we were talking about in the summer?

This is unclear. It’s possible the emails the FBI uncovered are duplicates of what the FBI already has. Or, they could be irrelevant. It’s unclear how much Comey himself knows about the emails at this point.  

How is Anthony Weiner connected?

Unnamed law enforcement officials have told journalists that FBI agents found the emails on a laptop seized from former New York congressman Anthony Weiner while investigating sexually explicit text messages Weiner allegedly exchanged with a 15-year-old girl. Weiner is married to Clinton’s longtime aide Huma Abedin, though they are currently separated.

Why did FBI Director Comey recommend against charging Clinton in July?

Comey said the Justice Department shouldn’t prosecute Clinton because there isn’t enough evidence that she intentionally mishandled classified information. FBI investigators didn’t find vast quantities of exposed classified material, and they also did not turn up evidence that Clinton intended to be disloyal to the United States or that she intended to obstruct justice.

However, he called Clinton’s email setup "extremely careless."

How many classified emails did Clinton send on her private server?

Of the tens of thousands of emails the FBI reviewed, 81 email chains found on Clinton’s private servers included classified information, as determined by various U.S. intelligence agencies, according to a FBI report released Sept. 2. Just three email chains included some sort of marking that indicated they were classified. About 2,000 emails have been retroactively classified, meaning they were not classified at the time they were sent.

Comey has said Clinton should have recognized by the topic of discussion that some of these emails did not belong on a non-classified system, given that 36 of these email chains had "secret" information and eight had "top secret" information.

Republicans have said Clinton deleted 33,000 emails from her private server. Is that true?

Clinton conducted work and personal business on her private email server. In December 2014, Clinton’s lawyers combed through the server in order to provide the State Department with her work-related emails, ultimately turning over about 30,000 emails. The campaign deleted the remaining 33,000, saying they were personal in nature.

However, the FBI investigation did find several thousand emails among those deleted that were work-related and should have been turned over. Comey said, though, that the investigation "found no evidence that any of the additional work-related emails were intentionally deleted in an effort to conceal them."

Is it against the law for a government employee to use private email for government business?

No law specifically bans government employees from using private email. But federal regulations require agencies to promptly preserve records of agency activity. For example, State Department policy requires that all day-to-day operations are to be conducted on the official State Department information channel. Clinton never once used this system.

The FBI investigation has to do with whether Clinton mishandled classified information by taking it outside of an approved government system, which could be a crime. Clinton has said she viewed classified information in hard copy in her office, and she used other secure channels when traveling.

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