WASHINGTON (AP) — The FBI will have to comb through thousands of newly discovered emails for classified material in its renewed examination of the email practices of Hillary Clinton and her aides, a U.S. official said Monday. Whether that review concludes by Election Day is far from certain.
The timing matters because Donald Trump has been assailing Clinton ever more vigorously since FBI Director James Comey revealed the existence of the emails in a remarkable and ambiguous letter to Congress last Friday. He said agents would take steps to review the messages, which were found on a computer seized during an unrelated investigation involving the estranged husband of a Clinton aide.
Rep. Anthony Weiner, the disgraced former New York congressman, is being investigated in connection with online communications with a teenage girl. He was separated this year from Huma Abedin, one of Clinton's closest advisers.
It was not immediately clear exactly how many emails have been recovered or what significance, if any, they might have to Clinton. But the U.S. official who spoke to The Associated Press said the trove numbers in the thousands and the FBI, which has obtained a warrant to begin the review, would be focusing on those deemed pertinent to its earlier Clinton email server investigation.
The FBI and Justice Department closed that investigation, which looked into whether Clinton and her aides had mishandled classified information, without charges in July.
The official who spoke to the AP was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The fact that another cache of emails potentially important to the investigation has only recently been discovered raises an immediate question: How could Abedin have been unaware of their existence.
The answer is not yet clear, but it's possible that either she did not know about the emails on the computer of her estranged husband, forgot about them or for some other reason did not turn them over.
In a sworn deposition taken in June as part of a lawsuit filed by the conservative legal group Judicial Watch, Abedin was asked about what devices she had used to send or receive messages from her account on the clintonemail.com server. As part of the process in 2015 of returning her work-related emails to the State Department, Abedin said she "looked for all the devices that may have any of my State Department" work and provided two laptops and a Blackberry to her lawyers for review.
Abedin made no mention of there being additional devices where her emails might have been saved.
"I was not involved in the process," Abedin said. "I provided them with the devices and the materials and asked them to find whatever they thought was relevant and appropriate, whatever was their determination as to what was a federal record, and they did. They turned materials in, and I know they did so. I couldn't tell you from what device."
Abedin went on to say that she also provided her lawyers with her login and password to access her account on the Clinton server, which she said she used for all work-related matters while serving at the State Department.
A person familiar with the investigation said the device that appears to be at the center of the new review belonged only to Weiner and was not a computer he shared with Abedin. As a result, it was not a device Abedin searched for work-related emails at the time of the initial investigation, according to the person, who said of Abedin that it was "news to her" that her emails would be on a computer belonging to her husband.
Even if the recovered emails are found to contain classified information, it's not clear what impact, if any, that would have on the investigation. Comey has already described Clinton and her aides as "extremely careless" and has said agents found scores of classified emails on Clinton's server. But he also said there was no evidence that they intended to mishandle classified email or obstructed justice, elements that he suggested would be necessary for a criminal prosecution.
Associated Press writer Michael Biesecker contributed to this report.