Opinion

JOAN VENNOCHI

Did James Comey give Donald Trump a last-minute lifeline?

FBI Director James Comey.
Win McNamee/Getty Images/File
FBI Director James Comey.

If the FBI’s decision to review how Hillary Clinton handled classified information derails her march to the White House, Clinton has no one to blame but herself. Her political problems stem from her own decision to use a private e-mail server to conduct her business as secretary of state.

That was wrong. But the FBI’s handling of this case under director James B. Comey feels wrong, too. Just 11 days before election day, Comey sent a letter to Congress saying that the FBI “has learned of the existence of e-mails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation.” According to the New York Times, the newly discovered e-mails were found on electronic devices that belonged to Huma Abedin, a top aide to Clinton, and Anthony Weiner, Abedin’s estranged husband, who is under investigation for sexting a minor.

Why is Comey announcing an investigation via a letter to Congress anyway? That’s not the way the FBI usually operates. But then, Comey already broke precedent back in July, when he held a press conference to announce that the FBI would not indict Clinton. He called her out back then for being “extremely careless,” but said no crime was committed. Since then, he has been under fire from Republicans, to the point that he defended himself and his agency with these words when he went before the House Judiciary Committee: “You can call us wrong, but don’t call us weasels.”

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Comey can expect more of that kind of derisive name-calling, this time from Democrats. He told lawmakers that politics played no role in his agency’s initial investigation into Clinton’s e-mail, and decision not to indict her. Donald Trump didn’t accept it then, and Clinton won’t accept that argument now. With Trump falling in the polls, this feels like a last-minute lifeline.

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The letter Comey sent to lawmakers hurts Clinton, while supplying little detail about what exactly triggered the investigation.

The “lock her up” chants at a Friday Trump rally took on new fervor, as Trump declared, “Hillary Clinton’s corruption is on a scale that we have never seen before.” That’s the fallout from Comey’s announcement that he is allowing investigators “to review these e-mails to determine whether they contain classified information, as well as to assess their importance to our investigation.”

The golden rule of law enforcement is to steer clear of politics. Given the potential for his letter to influence a presidential election, Comey looks the way he described Clinton: “extremely careless” about the reputation of the FBI.

Clinton and Comey may deserve each other, but the American people deserve more.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.