The FBI has reopened its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s secret emails, Director James Comey told Congress in a new letter Friday, heightening the stakes for the Democratic presidential nominee with less than two weeks before Election Day.
Mr. Comey said his agents learned of new emails “pertinent” to their probe while working on an unrelated case. He said his agents need to review those messages to see whether they contain classified information and whether they affect his previous decision.
In July, Mr. Comey announced that while he determined Mrs. Clinton did mishandle classified information, she was too inept to know the risks she was running, so he couldn’t prove she did it intentionally — undercutting a criminal case.
His new announcement Friday threatened to upend the presidential campaign.
“Perhaps, finally, justice will be done,” GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump said at a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, saying he respected the FBI for reversing itself.
Mrs. Clinton, campaigning in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, did not address the issue, instead sticking doggedly to her stump speech of attacks on Mr. Trump mixed with a plea to voters to focus on issues.
President Obama, who has been saddled by association with Mrs. Clinton, who was serving him during the time she maintained her secret email server, did not respond to questions shouted by reporters Friday afternoon as he left the White House on a campaign trip to Florida to stump for Mrs. Clinton and Democratic Senate candidate Patrick Murphy.
Briefing reporters on Air Force One, deputy press secretary Eric Schultz said Mr. Obama President Obama expects the FBI to “follow the facts wherever they lead” and to act “irrespective of politics.”
Mr. Schultz said the new email development does not affect Mr. Obama’s support of Mrs. Clinton.
Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson said on CNN, “Obviously the FBI didn’t do this lightly. There has to be something there.”
He lamented the prospect of “a president-elect under criminal investigation.”
“That’s what’s going to now be the case, if she is elected,” he said. “She will control those jobs [in the Justice Department] that controls how this issue moves forward, which points to a special prosecutor. This is a mess. It’s a mess. I think Trump is toast, so Hillary moving forward as president-elect? Four years of this? Ugh.”
Congressional Republicans, who have been at odds with Mr. Trump on many issues, found common ground with their nominee in attacking Mrs. Clinton.
“This decision, long overdue, is the result of her reckless use of a private email server, and her refusal to be forthcoming with federal investigators,” said House Speaker Paul D. Ryan.
He again called for the Obama administration to suspend the classified intelligence briefings Mrs. Clinton is getting as the Democratic nominee.
And Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, wondered whether the Justice Department will now convene a grand jury to pursue the case.
He said the FBI had already cleared Mrs. Clinton of mishandling classified information, so to reopen the case suggests either potential new evidence of intent to mishandle secrets, or other potential criminal questions.
“Originally FBI focused on ‘classification rules’ and not broader issues related to government records/obstruction of justice. Will they now?” Mr. Cornyn tweeted.
Republicans have said Mrs. Clinton appeared to mislead Congress in her sworn testimony to the Benghazi probe in 2015.
The staggering reversal by Mr. Comey comes as Mrs. Clinton is reeling from another electronic scandal — the revelations from emails obtained and posted by WikiLeaks from her campaign chairman, John Podesta.
Mrs. Clinton refused to use an official state.gov email account during her four years as secretary, instead setting up an account on a server she kept at her home in New York. That arrangement shielded her emails from public disclosure for six years, thwarting open-records laws.
She belatedly turned over some 30,000 messages she deemed government-related, but the FBI recovered thousands of others she didn’t — including some that contained classified information.
Mr. Comey didn’t say what the new emails showed, how long it will take to evaluate them, nor how they were obtained.
The New York Times, though, reported they were snagged as part of an investigation into former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s sexting. Mr. Weiner earlier this year separated from Huma Abedin, Mrs. Clinton’s top personal aide, who also had an account on the secret Clinton email server and who exchanged classified information with her boss.
He said he felt obligated to alert Congress.
The revelation comes too late to affect the 16 million voters who have already cast ballots in absentee or in-person voting.
An FBI spokesman declined Friday to comment on the reopening of the investigation.
Let’s hope this time they won’t find excuses to not indict her.