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FBI Continues Review Of Emails Connected To Hillary Clinton Aide

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Just four days before Election Day, the FBI, which is supposed to be independent, finds itself a key player in the presidential race. Director James Comey broke with protocol when he told Congress a week ago that investigators had found emails. He said those messages appeared to be related to the Bureau's investigation of Hillary Clinton's use of a personal server while she was secretary of state. Here to discuss what we have learned since then is NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Hey, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: So we know the FBI has been reviewing those emails, which were on the laptop of Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin. What can you tell us about the content of those messages?

JOHNSON: Sources say there appears to be some new material in there, not stuff the FBI has already seen, Ari, but it's not clear how big a deal it is, whether it's significant enough to change the conclusion that no one should be prosecuted for mishandling government secrets. The FBI has been running software programs to figure out whether these messages were copies or duplicates of emails the FBI already had. And they also ran a program to find key words that could signal whether the emails contained any classified information.

SHAPIRO: What's the likelihood that we will hear publicly from the FBI again before Election Day?

JOHNSON: Well, my sources aren't ruling anything out. The agents on the ground are working really hard, but they won't go public unless they can say with some certainty what they found and what it means. This is as politically sensitive as it gets while the FBI is also busy assessing possible terror threats and cyber threats surrounding the election.

SHAPIRO: The FBI director, James Comey, is getting a lot of criticism from people in both parties for injecting his agency into the presidential race. Is there any chance he could step down or be dismissed?

JOHNSON: This week, President Obama and the attorney general, Loretta Lynch, both said they have confidence in Comey. And the FBI director's just three years into a 10-year term, so he could be on the job for a long time. Now, in theory, a president can remove an FBI chief from the job, but that'd be politically difficult for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.

And as for Jim Comey, it's possible he could decide to quit. But the FBI is still going to be looking at politically-sensitive investigations. They won't go away even Comey does.

SHAPIRO: There were so many leaks this week from the FBI about what the Bureau might or might not be looking into regarding the Clinton Foundation. What can you tell us about their activity there?

JOHNSON: Well, law enforcement sources are telling me they think a lot of this talk has been coming from people who've retired from the FBI, in touch with Rudy Giuliani and other folks tied to the Trump campaign. That's really not supposed to be happening. It's true there's been a lot of friction between FBI agents in New York and federal prosecutors who run the Public Corruption Unit here in Washington.

Here's what we know. They had a meeting about nine months ago to talk about evidence in the Clinton Foundation matter. Prosecutors were not impressed. But the FBI agents, apparently, decided to keep working. This week, there was an erroneous report that indictments were likely in the Clinton Foundation case. My sources say that's absolutely false. This investigation has really been going nowhere, and it may never get very far on the merits, on the weakness of the evidence involved.

SHAPIRO: Carrie, there are so many unusual, unprecedented things about this election. The FBI's involvement in this final chapter and its sort of conflict with the Justice Department seems particularly unusual. How out of the ordinary is it?

JOHNSON: It is totally bizarre. People I've talked to this week had never seen anything like it before in a generation or more. The institution, Ari, has taken a huge hit this past week, some loss of public confidence. Some FBI agents themselves are unhappy with the way this has gone down. Now the FBI Agents Association, which represents 13,000 members, says its members are working with integrity and they respect confidentiality no matter what some of these leaks suggest.

SHAPIRO: And this doesn't sound like it's going to go away after Election Day.

JOHNSON: No. In fact, now there's a quietly brewing legal question about whether this search of the Anthony Weiner laptop and how it turned into a search for Huma Abedin's emails was legal, whether it was an OK search under the Fourth Amendment. And that issue could be gaining traction after the election.

SHAPIRO: NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson, who's going to continue following this through Election Day and beyond. Thank you, Carrie.

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