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FBI Obtains A Warrant To Review Newly Discovered Emails

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

OK, we're eight days before the presidential election. You might say the FBI is in a race against the clock. NPR has learned federal agents now have court permission to dig through thousands of newly discovered emails. FBI Director James Comey dropped a bombshell on Friday when he told Congress those messages could be relevant to the investigation of Hillary Clinton's personal email server. The key question now - whether those documents are copies of material already reviewed by the FBI or whether they're new and whether they contain classified material. Let's talk about this with NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson, who's on the line. Carrie, good morning.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So - so much to ask you here. I mean, I guess, first, what - what are these newly discovered emails, if we know anything, and how quickly can investigators get through them?

JOHNSON: The FBI discovered these messages on Anthony Weiner's laptop. He's been under investigation for allegedly sending illicit messages to an underage girl in North Carolina. And Weiner, of course, is the estranged husband of Hillary Clinton's close aide Huma Abedin. The investigator theory - investigator's theory is Abedin apparently used the laptop at home for some correspondence that could be related to State Department business. But, David, it's not clear right now whether any of the newly discovered emails are to or from Hillary Clinton.

And the FBI director says it's not clear whether the material is really significant. Law enforcement sources were telling me yesterday agents are under orders from the highest levels of the Justice Department and the FBI to work quickly. And if the emails are all copies or duplicates, investigators may be able to say that this week before the election. If there are new emails, it could take a while longer.

GREENE: So we know so little. What we do know, though, is the FBI director, James Comey, I mean, just taking a beating for sending this letter to Congress about this case, you know, because we're within days of an election.

JOHNSON: It's been really rough for him. Former Justice Department officials, both Democrat and Republican, have united to criticize the FBI director for appearing to influence an election with so little information. A couple of them called it like conducting a criminal investigation like a reality TV show.

And Senator Harry Reid, a Democrat, went so far as to accuse the FBI director, James Comey, of breaking a federal law that prohibits government workers from using their position to put their thumb on the scale during an election season. He's alleging, without providing any evidence, that Comey's holding back on details about the Donald Trump campaign and its ties to Russia by talking all over the place about Hillary Clinton.

GREENE: Well, is the FBI explaining at all what Comey's doing?

JOHNSON: Well I'm hearing from law enforcement sources and longtime friends of the FBI director that he really felt boxed in here. He testified to Congress in July and September that the investigation of Clinton's email server was closed with no charges.

But then, late last week, this new discovery came up, and the FBI director felt he had to update lawmakers. Sources also say Comey worried the discovery would leak before the election, and it would look worse for the FBI. It would look like a cover up.

GREENE: Tough spot now for Hillary Clinton's campaign, and people in her campaign have been very angry.

JOHNSON: Yeah, her campaign and many of their allies have gone on the attack against the FBI director, who serves a 10-year fixed term and will remain FBI director if Clinton wins the White House. She wants the FBI to release all the messages as quickly as possible.

GREENE: OK, we'll be hearing much more about this story. That is reporting from NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson, who joins us this morning. Carrie, thanks so much.

JOHNSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.