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FBI Director James Comey testifies during a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs hearing in Washington, DC, in September. (Yuri Gripas/AFP/Getty Images)
FBI Director James Comey testifies during a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs hearing in Washington, DC, in September. (Yuri Gripas/AFP/Getty Images)

Globe editorial

FBI director’s poor decision about Clinton e-mails could taint the U.S. election Add to ...

Just when you thought the U.S. presidential election couldn’t be any more troubling, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation goes rogue and compromises the political neutrality of the American justice system.

On Friday, James Comey sent a letter to Congress saying investigators had discovered hundreds of thousands of e-mails that “appear to be pertinent” to the FBI’s probe into whether the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, mishandled classified information while she was Secretary of State.

Ms. Clinton used a private e-mail server as Secretary of State instead of going through government channels, an error that could have led to security breaches. The FBI completed its investigation in July and said there were no charges to be laid.

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The new batch of e-mails turned up in an unrelated FBI investigation into Anthony Weiner, the former U.S. congressman who keeps getting caught texting lewd images and messages to women. His estranged wife is Huma Abedin, one of Ms. Clinton’s top aides; the e-mails, belonging to Ms. Abedin, were discovered on Mr. Weiner’s computer during the FBI’s investigation into his latest scandal, in which he appears to have inappropriately texted a minor.

There is no suggestion that these new e-mails are incriminating, or even significant. There is every likelihood that many will be duplicates of the ones already looked at and dismissed. At this point, the FBI is acting out of an abundance of caution, which is proper. But why did Mr. Comey feel the need to prematurely release vague details that he knew would be used to fuel exaggerated allegations against Ms. Clinton by her opponent in the dying days of this highly charged campaign?

Some say Mr. Comey was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t. Maybe. But he chose the most damning action. By not remaining silent, he has violated a strict policy prohibiting Justice Department and FBI officials from releasing information that might unfairly affect voters’ perception of an election candidate.

Mr. Comey’s personal decision, taken against the direct advice of officials in the Justice Department, will likely have an impact on the outcome of a close election. Donald Trump, the Republican candidate, loves to complain that the election is rigged against him. It may just have been rigged in his favour.

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