The FBI released documents on Monday revealing former Director James Comey drafted a statement about the conclusion of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's private email server long before that investigation had actually concluded.
The FBI emails released this week are heavily redacted, but confirm Comey began drafting his July statement as early as May. Clinton herself was not interviewed until July 2.
In a quote to Newsweek, which first reported the documents, Ron Hosko, an assistant director at the FBI under Comey until 2014, said the gravity of the case could explain why officials got started on drafts early, noting, "When you have a significant case that is in the public domain and certainly in the public's interest, in the public's eye, I think that it could be expected that both the FBI and the prosecutors that they're working with are beginning to draft a statement of facts that could be used later, as the case is developing."
But he also said the key to determining malpractice would lie in the "content" of the statement. "I think the content of the statement is going to be important," said Hosko. "Did it purport to essentially acquit her actions way prematurely, or was it simply a running statement of what they knew?"
The newly disclosed documents confirm concerns raised by Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in an August letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray. After reviewing transcripts from the Office of Special Counsel's interviews with Comey's Chief of Staff Jim Rybicki and Principal Deputy General Counsel of National Security and Cyberlaw Trisha Anderson, the senators wrote, "According to the unredacted portions of the transcripts, it appears that in April or early May of 2016, Mr. Comey had already decided he would issue a statement exonerating Secretary Clinton. That was long before FBI agents finished their work." [Emphasis in original.]
"Mr. Comey even circulated an early draft statement to select members of senior FBI leadership," they said. "The outcome of an investigation should not be prejudged while FBI agents are still hard at work trying to gather the facts."
After sending the letter, Graham threatened to subpoena Comey if he declined to testify again voluntarily. "He's coming one way or the other," the senator said in September. Following the release of new documents this week, House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., agreed that Comey should return to Congress and provide additional testimony.
Portions of the transcript included in Graham and Grassley's letter reveal Rybicki said that Comey, in search of "the most forward-leaning thing we could do," circulated a draft of the eventual statement, "knowing the direction the investigation is headed," in the spring. As the senators pointed out, by May 2016, the FBI still had not interviewed Clinton, or "sixteen other key witnesses, including Cheryl Mills, Bryan Pagliano, Heather Samuelson, Justin Cooper, and John Bentel."
Even given Hosko's favorable defense of the early draft as a reasonable move for officials working on a high-profile investigation, the timeline is bizarre. Hosko himself asked the key question, pointing towards the contents of the draft: "Did it purport to essentially acquit her actions way prematurely, or was it simply a running statement of what they knew?"
It's time for Comey to return to Capitol Hill and answer that question.
Emily Jashinsky is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.