The renewed FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton doesn’t have to uncover a bombshell to provoke criminal charges, former federal prosecutors said, but could simply add enough to a growing body of evidence to tip the scales in favor of a prosecution on any of a variety of fronts.
FBI Director James B. Comey said last week that investigators were checking emails to determine whether they were pertinent to the case he closed in July against Mrs. Clinton for the mishandling of classified information, but prosecutors said agents are poring over 650,000 emails that might show evidence of political corruption or lying to federal authorities.
“I think there’s already plenty of bombshells that were already out there, and we’re just learning more,” said John R. Teakell, a former assistant U.S. attorney.
Joseph E. DiGenova, a former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, agreed.
“That is reasonable to assume,” he said. “I think the bureau is hopping mad, and I think the director is getting to the point of being hopping mad.”
So far, the FBI has given no indication — other than Mr. Comey’s vague letter — of what it believes it may find. That has spurred a furious debate over his announcement and has reignited the second-guessing over his first investigation. Closing the investigation in July, he said Mrs. Clinton had mishandled classified information but he couldn’t prove intent.
Some legal analysts say Ms. Abedin may have misled in her deposition when she insisted she had sought out all of her electronic devices that may have held official State Department records. The FBI last week revealed that it had obtained more messages, reportedly from a computer Ms. Abedin shared with her now-estranged husband, Anthony D. Weiner, that could add to their understanding of Mrs. Clinton’s email behavior.
“I cannot imagine that the director would have sent that letter unless there was evidence on that computer which would counter what he said in his original press conference,” said Mr. DiGenova. “However, that doesn’t mean that there would be charges recommended yet again in the server case.”
Black eye for FBI
Nick Akerman, a former federal prosecutor who worked on Watergate and then as assistant U.S. attorney in New York, said he sees no realistic chance that anything on Ms. Abedin’s computer could change Mr. Comey’s decision to exonerate Mrs. Clinton.
“The odds of that are like zero,” he said. “That’s why this thing is just so outrageous, because there was never any reason to tell anybody, never mind the public and Congress, about this, unless Comey is trying to cover up from the mishandled investigation they did from Day One.”
Barring the unthinkable, such as nuclear secrets among Ms. Abedin’s emails, Mr. Akerman said, it should have been easy to determine whether there was any legal danger from the emails by performing a simple search for the words “confidential,” “secret” and “top secret” — the three levels of classification — and then tying them to Mrs. Clinton.
Unless any of those markings appear, Mr. Akerman said, making a case will be nearly impossible because it would invite prolonged legal wrangling about back-classification and motives of those doing the classifying.
The lawyer said public discussions about the handling of the probe has dented the FBI’s image.
“They should have had this information over a year ago, for starters. No one’s even talked about that. It makes absolutely no sense the FBI has to backtrack now because it screwed up and didn’t do a thorough investigation in the first place,” he said.
All of the prosecutors who spoke to The Washington Times agreed that the initial probe was botched, though they differed on where things were mishandled.
Mr. DiGenova said the original investigation should have included a grand jury, which Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch reportedly blocked.
For the new probe, he said, “there will be a need for a grand jury, which Attorney General Lynch will block, and then we will have a constitutional crisis.” Other suspicious behavior
If the FBI is going beyond the classification probe, the other avenues it may be pursuing are:
⦁ A Project Veritas hidden-camera video that showed a Democratic operative saying the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign were funding efforts to hire people to pose as protesters and incite violence at rallies for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
Mr. Teakell called the thugs-for-hire scandal a possible conspiracy to cause violence.
⦁ Among the hacked emails belonging to Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta that WikiLeaks published were exchanges acknowledging dismay about the email scandal and a conversation that could be construed as plotting to destroy evidence, which could qualify as obstruction of justice.
⦁ Other emails from the WikiLeaks dump described plans to use the Clinton Foundation to leverage huge speaking fees for former President Bill Clinton or Mrs. Clinton’s appearances to illicit multimillion-dollar donations from foreign governments.
“There is a prohibition against activities for personal gain from a matter that you or your family have an interest in regarding the Clinton Foundation and her position as secretary of state,” said Mr. Teakell.
He also called it a possible offense under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO Act, that targets ongoing criminal organization.
Whatever its target, the renewed FBI investigation is not likely to be concluded by Election Day, and doubts will persist about its handling by the bureau and the Justice Department.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called this week for an inspector general to look into whether Ms. Lynch or Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik had conflicts of interest because of their ties to the Clintons or their political operation.
“I think he’s going to have to go, and there’s going to have to be somebody in there who’s going to clean this up, because this is not the way the FBI operates,” he said.
Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat and a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said Mr. Comey’s questionable decisions show why the FBI needs to be held accountable in other areas, including snooping.
“It is clear the FBI would benefit from a strong, independent inspector general, and that moves to weaken independent watchdogs like the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board only embolden leaders at FBI and elsewhere who believe the rules don’t apply to them,” Mr. Wyden said.