FBI director James Comey rocked the Presidential election last week with his statements about emails found on computers belonging to disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner. Now it is possible that Comey himself has come under investigation.
Comey’s announcement helped to reignite the controversy over Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, and suggested that there might be information harmful to Clinton on Weiner’s computer. Clinton’s close aide Huma Abedin is married to Weiner, although the two separated after the sexting scandals that ended Weiner’s career.
Comey’s statement was criticized by former FBI and Justice Department staff, as well as other federal employees, for violating a longstanding Justice Department rule against releasing sensitive information close to an election. In the psat, the Justice Department has delayed investigations and prosecutions in order to allow elections to proceed without interference.
Richard W. Painter, a University of Minnesota law professor and former chief White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush, published an article in the October 30 New York Times in which he accused Comey of violating the Hatch Act. The Hatch Act forbids federal employees from engaging directly in political activity. In this article, Painter said that he had filed a complaint about Comey with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) and the Office of Government Ethics.
The OSC is an independent federal agency that monitors and investigates federal personnel practices. Its duties include protecting whistleblowers, investigating claims of discrimination, and enforcing the Hatch Act. If it discovers violations, it can hand down penalties that include firing.
While the OSC as a matter of policy does not confirm or deny the existence of any investigations, the agency always follows up on complaints like Painter’s. If Comey is under investigation for Hatch Act violations, his intent in releasing the information on Weiner’s emails is irrelevant. “[A]n official doesn’t need to have a specific intent — or desire — to influence an election to be in violation of the Hatch Act or government ethics rules,” Painter wrote in his article.
The outcome of the OSC’s investigation, if there is one, will not be made public until well after the election.