The FBI's belated discovery of a trove of emails related to the Hillary Clinton email investigation will likely force agents to look beyond whether classified information was mishandled and into questions of whether there was a coverup, deception or obstruction during the original probe, law enforcement officials told Circa.
The FBI's surprise decision to reopen the probe just 11 days before the election was prompted by the discovery of hundreds of messages archived on a computer device once shared by Clinton aide Huma Abedin and her estranged husband, the disgraced ex-congressman Anthony Weiner.
The discovery in an unrelated probe into Weiner's sexting raised agents' concerns some evidence might have been kept off limits during the prior investigation, law enforcement sources said.
Some of the emails discovered by the FBI in recent days "were not familiar" to agents who had worked the earlier case, raising concerns they had not been produced before the FBI decided in July not to pursue charges against Mrs. Clinton or her top aides for transmitting classified information across non-secure email servers.'
Agents will have to review the materials both for classified information and whether they provide any evidence that witnesses in the earlier probe were untruthful or not fully cooperative, the sources said, speaking only on condition of anonymity.
"It's far too early to tell for sure, but there was enough concern that we might have found more classified information or that some information was kept or obstructed from us to warrant a new look," one source said. "It was not political or taken likely. We would have done the same thing if we found similar evidence in a closed murder probe or white collar case."
Another source compared the FBI's behavior in the Clinton matter to a time a decade and a half ago when the FBI asked to stop the execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh after finding documents in its own files that might not have been properly turned over to his defense. "These aren't popular decisions but they are the right ones under the law," that source said.
The sources said the FBI will have to ensure they have proper legal authority to review all the recently discovered documents, which may involve getting additional subpoenas or search warrants beyond those in the Weiner case and will also to have to carefully avoid examining documents that could be covered by attorney client privilege.
Ronald Hosko, the recently retired FBI assistant director in charge of criminal investigations, said whenever new evidence is discovered in a closed case agents must "look at whether there was deception, obstruction or a coverup that hindered the original case."
"It could be nothing or it could point to deception by witnesses we thought were cooperative. That's why you have to investigate," he said.
Sources said agents must begin the painstaking process of comparing every email to what was already in the FBI's evidence vault from the earlier case and then comparing information in the emails to the testimonies or interviews of witnesses. It is unlikely all that work can be finished before the Nov. 8 election, the sources added.
The sources also addressed the unusual decision by Director James Comey to alert Congress to the discovery, prompting a firestorm during the final days of an already bitter presidential campaign.
"The FBI had represented to Congress that it had turned over the evidence it had in the closed case and when we found these documents we had an obligation to inform them there might be more information relevant to their own separate inquiries. They're an equal branch of government with document demands already made and they were entitled to be told," one source explained.