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'Titan': Former US Senate Leader Harry Reid Dies At 82

Washington (AFP) - Former US Senate majority leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat who rose from humble beginnings to lead the upper chamber during the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, has died aged 82.

"I am heartbroken to announce the passing of my husband," his wife, Landra, said in a statement released to US media, adding he died "peacefully... surrounded by our family."

Reid, who used his experience in Congress to help Obama steer his landmark Affordable Care Act through the Senate, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2018.

Laconic and soft-spoken, Reid was born and raised in the mining town of Searchlight, Nevada on December 2, 1939, in a house with no hot water or indoor toilets.

A prize-fighter in his youth, he used his pugilistic instincts to work his way up to becoming one of the longest-serving majority leaders in the history of the US senate, and even called his memoir The Good Fight.

Current Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, said Reid was "one of the most amazing individuals I've ever met."

"He never forgot where he came from and used those boxing instincts to fearlessly fight those who were hurting the poor & middle class," Schumer said on Twitter.

'Skill And Determination'

Despite his hardscrabble upbringing, he was elected to the Senate in 1986 and became the upper chamber's Democratic leader in the 2004 elections. He served as Senate majority leader from 2007 to 2015.

Reid often referred to his working class origins -- his father was a miner, his mother a laundress, and neither parent graduated from high school.

He hitchhiked 40 miles (65 kilometers) as a teenager to attend the nearest high school, and then graduated from Utah State University and put himself through George Washington University Law School by working nights as a member of the US Capitol police.

Quixotic, he once filibustered the Republicans by himself for nine hours, by reading from the history book he wrote about his hometown of Searchlight.

Reid was more conservative than most other Democrats in the Senate. A practicing Mormon, he was staunchly against abortion rights -- a stance that sometimes found him working at cross purposes with others in his Democratic caucus.

In lieu of a statement, Obama made public a letter he had written to Reid shortly before his death, in which he said: "I wouldn't have been president had it not been for your encouragement and support, and I wouldn't have got most of what I got done without your skill and determination."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Reid a "titan," describing him as "a leader of immense courage and ferocious conviction who worked tirelessly to achieve historic progress for the American people."

Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader in the Senate, said that Reid's rise from poverty to political power was a "quintessentially American story, and it took Harry's legendary toughness, bluntness, and tenacity to make it happen."

Former Senate Leader Reid Urges Democrats To Abolish Filibuster Forver

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Although some centrist Democrats have been vigorously defending the filibuster — namely, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — many other Democrats have been expressing their frustration with it. One of them is former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. In an op-ed published by the Las Vegas Sun this week, the Nevada Democrat lays out some reasons why he would like to see Senate Democrats "abolish the filibuster once and for all."

The 81-year-old Reid explains, "An arcane Senate rule, the filibuster imposes a 60-vote threshold on the majority of legislation, and it allows just one senator of the minority party to effectively block any and all progress by simply sending an e-mail indicating their opposition to a bill. Our Framers envisioned the Senate as a deliberative body where the issues of the day could receive thoughtful consideration, and where a simple majority was needed to conduct most business. What we have today is a gridlocked body where there's more obstruction than debate."

Reid adds that as the Framers saw it, "debate was to be encouraged in the Senate." But in 1917, Reid notes, the "filibuster rule as we know it today was introduced" as a "means of cutting off extended and tedious debate."

"Just as he did in the Obama years when I served as majority leader, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has exploited and weaponized the filibuster, turning it into a tool to stifle President Joe Biden's legislative priorities — a platform that won him the White House by more than seven million votes," Reid laments. "The filibuster has become an anti-democratic weapon wielded by the minority to silence the will of the people."

Whether a Democratic bill is addressing climate change, voting rights or reproductive rights, Reid argues, the filibuster is getting in the way of Biden's agenda.

"Just as he did in President Obama's first term with nominations, Mitch McConnell and his fellow far-right Republicans are again making clear that they will stop at nothing to steamroll Democratic priorities — even when it means grinding the Senate's proceedings to a halt," Reid writes. "The sanctity of the Senate is not the filibuster. The sanctity of the Senate — in government as a whole — is the power it holds to better the lives of and protect the rights of the American people. We need to get the Senate working again. It's time Senate Democrats act with the urgency that this moment demands and abolish the filibuster once and for all."

Senate Democrats Amass Support For Gorsuch Filibuster

 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats on Monday amassed enough support to block a U.S. Senate confirmation vote on President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, but Republicans vowed to change the Senate rules to ensure the conservative judge gets the lifetime job.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11-9 along party lines to send Gorsuch’s nomination to the full Senate, setting up a political showdown between Trump’s fellow Republicans and the opposition Democrats that appears likely to trigger a change in long-standing Senate rules to allow his confirmation.

Before the vote, Senator Christopher Coons, a member of the panel, became the 41st Democrat to announce support for a procedural hurdle called a filibuster requiring a super-majority of 60 votes in the 100-seat Senate to allow a confirmation vote.

The Senate’s Republican leaders insist Gorsuch will be confirmed on the Senate floor on Friday regardless of what the Democrats do. Republicans hold a 52-48 majority in the Senate.

In the face of the filibuster, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would be expected to force a confirmation vote by having the Senate change its rules and allow for a simple majority vote for confirmation of Supreme Court justices, a move sometimes called the “nuclear option” that Trump has urged.

Judiciary Committee Republicans blasted Democrats for pursuing what they called the first “partisan filibuster” of a Supreme Court nominee – there was a successful bipartisan filibuster five decades ago against a Democratic president’s nominee – and said it would come to naught because of the threatened rule change.

But it was Senate Republicans who last year refused to even consider Democratic former President Barack Obama’s nomination of appellate judge Merrick Garland to fill the same high court vacancy that Trump has selected Gorsuch to fill.

“Democrats, including me, are still furious at the way Judge Merrick Garland was treated last year. But the traditions and principles that have defined the Senate are crumbling and we are poised to hasten that destruction this week,” Coons said.

Coons left room for a compromise, in which Democrats would allow the vote to go ahead in return for Republicans agreeing to a 60-vote threshold for the next Supreme Court vacancy.

“So for my part, I hope and pray that we can yet find a way together to find a solution,” Coons added.

Senate confirmation of Gorsuch, 49, would restore the nine-seat high court’s conservative majority, fulfilling one of Trump’s top campaign promises. Trump in January nominated Gorsuch, a conservative appeals court judge from Colorado, to the lifetime job as a justice. He could be expected to serve for decades.

Gorsuch was nominated to fill a vacancy created by the February 2016 death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.

Republicans control the White House and Congress for the first time in a decade. The inability of Senate Republicans to coax enough Democratic support to avoid the “nuclear option” reflected the intense partisan divide in Washington and the Trump administration’s failure to win the cooperation of the opposition party.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer accused Democrats of partisan obstruction that sets “a very dangerous precedent” and told a briefing that “we’re obviously disappointed that the overwhelming majority of them are still playing politics with the nation’s highest court.” Spicer said the decision on the “nuclear option” rested with McConnell.

The committee’s chairman, Republican Chuck Grassley, defended Gorsuch as a mainstream jurist worthy of confirmation. Committee Republican John Kennedy called Gorsuch “a legal rock star” and a “thoroughbred.”

Democratic Senators Dianne Feinstein, the committee’s top Democrat, and Mark Warner, not a member of the panel, also announced opposition to Gorsuch on Monday and support for a filibuster.

The actual confirmation vote would be by a simple majority if the filibuster is stopped. To date, three Democrats have come out in support of Gorsuch, and the Republicans would have needed to secure eight Democratic votes to kill a Gorsuch filibuster.

With the failure of Republican healthcare legislation in Congress and with courts blocking the president’s ban on people from several Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States, winning confirmation for Gorsuch has taken on even more importance for Trump.

Democrats have accused Gorsuch of being insufficiently independent of Trump, evading questions on key Supreme Court rulings of the past including on abortion and political spending, and favoring corporate interests over ordinary Americans.

Democratic Senator Michael Bennet, who represents the nominee’s home state of Colorado and introduced the nominee during his confirmation hearing, said he would oppose the Gorsuch filibuster effort but did not take a position on whether to vote in favor of the judge.

Feinstein said this was not a “routine nomination,” noting what happened to Garland.

“There was simply no reason that the nomination of Judge Garland could not proceed, other than to deny the then-president of the United States, President Barack Obama, the ability to fill the seat,” Feinstein said.

Feinstein criticized Gorsuch’s rulings against a fired truck driver and an autistic child and faulted his actions as a lawyer in Republican former President George W. Bush’s Justice Department regarding detainee interrogation techniques critics called torture.

Feinstein also said she was disturbed by the millions of dollars of “dark money” from anonymous donors backing advertising and political advocacy by conservative groups to help Gorsuch win confirmation.

The 60-vote super-majority threshold that gives the minority party power to hold up the majority party has over the decades forced the Senate to try to achieve bipartisanship in legislation and in presidential appointments.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican committee member, expressed regret that his party would be forced to change the Senate rules and said the “damage done to the Senate’s going to be real.”

“If we have to, we will change the rules, and it looks like we’re going to have to. I hate that. I really, really do,” Graham said.

Senator Orrin Hatch, a committee Republican, said Democrats were acting under pressure from “the radical left.”

While Gorsuch’s opponents would fight a Senate rule change, it was the Democrats who in 2013 changed the Senate rules to limit filibusters after Republicans used the procedure against Obama’s appeals court nominees. The Senate, then led by Democrats, barred filibusters for executive branch nominees and federal judges aside from Supreme Court justices. Even if Republicans do change the rules, legislation, as opposed to appointments, would still need to meet a 60-vote threshold.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Mohammad Zargham, Tim Ahmann and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Will Dunham)

Hillary Clinton: ‘Fake News A Threat To U.S. Democracy’

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called “fake news” a danger that must be addressed quickly, in a rare public appearance on Thursday, a month after she lost the presidential election in a campaign marked by a flood of such propaganda.

“We must stand up for our democracy,” Clinton said during a tribute to retiring Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, referring to what she called “the epidemic of malicious fake news and false propaganda that flooded social media over the past year.”

Clinton urged action from both the private and public sectors to combat the false reports.

“It’s now clear that so-called ‘fake news’ can have real-world consequences. This isn’t about politics or partisanship. Lives are at risk. Lives of ordinary people just trying to go about their days, to do their jobs, contribute to their communities,” she said.

Clinton herself has been a target of fake news, with Internet postings claiming that a pizza restaurant in Washington was fronting a child sex ring run by Clinton.

On Sunday, a North Carolina man wielding an assault rifle fired a gun inside the restaurant, located in northwest Washington just a few miles from Thursday’s ceremony, according to police, who said the suspect told them he had come to “investigate” a fake news report.

Clinton’s appearance at the Thursday event, packed with mostly Democratic elected officials including Vice President Joe Biden, was greeted with a standing ovation and raucous applause.

Clinton, also a former senator who served with Reid, made a wry reference to the relatively low profile she has kept since Republican Donald Trump won the Nov. 8 presidential election, referring to “a few weeks of taking selfies in the woods.”

She indirectly acknowledged her defeat as she began her tribute to Reid: “This is not exactly the speech at the Capitol I hoped to be making after the election.”

The new U.S. president delivers an inaugural address on Jan. 20, standing on a large platform erected every four years on the west front of the Capitol building.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Leslie Adler)

IMAGE: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L-R) and U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) participate in a ceremony to unveil a portrait honoring retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. December 8, 2016.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The Three Senate Ds: Leaving Vigor And Voices Behind

The Senate chamber holds a fascination as political theater, but three great Democratic players are taking their last bows. Their vigorous voices will be missed in the fight against President Trump. There’s nobody quite like this trifecta, all proudly from humble origins.

“Where’s the justice, Mr. President?” This question was often asked of the presiding senator by Senator Barbara Boxer of California. Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada was once a boxer himself, and it showed up in his style. Never one for subtlety, his blunt political punches can be felt a mile away. Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, dean of the Senate women, is formidable as a friend or foe — always with a touch of the Baltimore girl she was. She has reached 80; Reid and Boxer are in their 70s. They decided it was time not to run again.

Gone unnoticed amid election frenzy, their leaving feels as autumnal as the tree leaves outside the Capitol. Seems like yesterday when I was a rookie reporter, studying these characters.

In total, they’ve served 84 years in the Senate. Thinking it over, they changed it forever, especially the two trailblazing women. Reid was frank in a floor speech on how Boxer “mentored” him on women’s issues. Then he spoke in closing, “You are and will always be my sister.” Such open sentiments are rare.

Reid is also open about his contempt for Donald Trump, cutting him as a racist and a sexual predator as the 2016 campaign wore on. He worked hard to deliver Nevada for Hillary Clinton. After the election, he urged Trump, “Rise to the dignity of the office.” His successor as Democratic leader, Charles Schumer, is a silver-tongued New Yorker, likely to have a better art of dealing with Trump.

Reid’s antagonism toward his rival, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., went both ways: no love lost. They contained it on the floor, but in his new memoir, “The Long Game,” McConnell made plain his frustration with Reid, “bombastic” in front of cameras, saying his floor style was like a campaign studio. Usually, party leaders strive for decorum. Leaders Trent Lott, R-Miss., and Tom Daschle, D-S.D., got along.

Actually, Reid’s Trumanesque way with words made a foil for the abstract president: “Professor Obama,” as McConnell calls him. Barack Obama erred early, thinking he could charm and work with House Republicans — even sly McConnell. Against Reid’s strenuous advice, he surrendered and extended the George W. Bush tax cuts for the well-off, close to Republican hearts. That may have marked Obama as naive in negotiations — he tried to be friends with his enemies. Reid, son of a miner in Searchlight, Nevada, never does that.

Oh, Barbara. Both Mikulski and Boxer are heroines in my book. They radiate intensity. Boxer ran for the Senate in 1992, Year of the Woman, after the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Thomas squeaked by, 52-48, in an unforgettable drama involving Anita Hill’s testimony that he sexually harassed her. America was unimpressed to see the Senate at work, under Senator Joe Biden’s sloppy gavel, to see a sea of ties voting. There were two women in the Senate.

Today there are 20. Every woman elected since owes a debt to Mikulski for bringing a bipartisan dinner group of Senate women together to get to know each another and discuss ropes and rules of the clubby Senate. Mikulski hosts the monthly dinner, building community. As a social worker, she organized opposition to a highway cutting through Baltimore’s downtown — and won. She told me, “Being a senator is like being a social worker with power.” And then she laughed. Her first run was for the city council.

A grocer’s daughter, Mikulski went to the same Catholic girls school as Nancy Pelosi. When she chaired the Appropriations Committee and Pelosi was House speaker, they were the most powerful women in Congress — and still are. Reid praised the Marylander’s floor oratory: no one better. Her words are heard across the aisle, and when she’s mad, you know it.

Same goes for Boxer, a Brooklyn native who shows resolve and fury at any injustice that crosses her. A champion of the environment, she crossed swords with Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla., a climate change denier, yet they seem friendly. In a final stand, Boxer denounced the election results: “We have a system where the winner can lose.”

Time to hang up the gloves. But the fighter still remains, as the Simon and Garfunkel song says.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.

IMAGE: Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) responds to Republican leadership during a news conference on Supreme Court nominations after party caucus luncheons on Capitol Hill in Washington February 23, 2016. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

Is Reckless Comey Seeking Revenge On Critics Via FBI Twitter Account?

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet. 

Something very dangerous is happening in the Federal Bureau of Investigation: The nation’s foremost law enforcement agency appears to be at war both within itself and with the Department of Justice, to which it belongs. The disagreements all involve our national politics and the FBI’s appropriate role in them, leaving the American people with yet another major institution on their do-not-trust list. The government is coming ever more undone, so much so that a recent Twitter post from an FBI account is raising questions about who’s behind it—the director of the FBI, or agents seemingly beyond his control.

The chaos burst into public view on Friday, October 28, 11 days before the 2016 presidential election is scheduled to take place. That’s when FBI director James Comey issued—against the wishes of DOJ officials and counter to department guidelines—his infamous letter informing the chairmen of eight congressional committees that agents investigating a possible sex crime by former congressman Anthony Weiner had found correspondence on his computer, involving his estranged wife Huma Abedin, that may be pertinent to the bureau’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state. (Abedin is a longtime Clinton aide.) Comey hadn’t seen the emails, he said, and didn’t know what was in them, leaving a lot of people scratching their heads and wondering if he just wasn’t trying to sway the election.

In the meantime, as noted in a letter to Comey from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, the FBI was investigating links between Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and the government of Russia. There again, it may well be that the FBI hasn’t uncovered any actionable information, but its director has not seen fit to write a letter to Congress in order to inform committee chairs that it has discovered a server used by the Trump Organization, possibly to conduct traffic between itself and the Alfa Bank of Russia.

According to news reports, the Bureau has also investigated the Trump Organization’s use of the server, but doesn’t know what’s been transmitted on it. Kind of like Anthony Weiner’s laptop, except that it involves a foreign government that is also believed by leaders of U.S. intelligence agencies to be behind the hacks of the emails of the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the chairman of the Hillary Clinton for President campaign. (The Intercept published an article Tuesday claiming to debunk the theory of the “Trump server” communicating with Alfa Bank.)

So it seems that from a law enforcement perspective, the FBI behaved properly in not sending word to Congress about the server, or any as-of-yet unproven links between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. But that same standard was not applied in the case of the Weiner laptop.

It’s been reported that Comey was feeling pressure, not just from Republicans who are furious with him for not indicting Clinton for her use of her private server for the conduct of government business, but from his own agents. And it would seem that Comey feels stung by the criticism he’s taking from Democrats regarding the letter he sent to Congress on Friday.

Now comes word, via Devlin Barrett of the Wall Street Journal, that agents who were investigating allegations of influence-peddling involving the Clinton Foundation were incensed when higher-ups at the Justice Department urged them to tread carefully so as to adhere to department guidelines against taking action that could influence an election, and that members of the Department’s anti-corruption unit didn’t think the FBI had a strong case.

It seems as if whoever controls a Bureau Twitter account called @FBIRecordsVault has struck back against all those Clinton surrogates who are calling foul on Comey. The account, whose purpose is the posting of documents released through Freedom of Information Act requests, appears to have been dead for a year—no postings since Oct. 7, 2015. Suddenly, on Tuesday, it sprang to life with a handful of posts, one a nothing-burger on Fred Trump, father of the Republican standard-bearer; and another on an old investigation of the Clinton Foundation and President Bill Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich, then a fugitive hedge-fund manager whose wife had donated to the DNC and the Clinton Foundation. It was Comey who brought the criminal case against Rich, Bloomberg News reports, and is said to have been “stunned” by Clinton’s pardon of the financier. The documents linked in the tweet don’t say much of anything (they’re heavily redacted), but the tweet itself does reinforce in the public mind the controversies advanced by Clinton’s enemies about the foundation. It’s not the fact of the tweet that’s at issue—the material was released via FOIA—but the timing of it from an account that was only reactivated Sunday.

Over the years, leaders and members of the FBI have given the American people many reasons to draw the conclusion that, in matters involving the American political landscape and the people who inhabit it, the Bureau cannot be trusted. Among them are the FBI’s attempts to undermine Rev. Martin Luther King at the height of the civil rights movement, and the bureau’s infiltration of civil rights and anti-war groups in the 1960s through its COINTELPRO operation and a similar operation that targeted the American Indian Movement.

In subsequent years, the Bureau was seen as more or less chastened and rehabilitated, thanks to the 1976 Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities of the United States Senate, popularly known as the Church Committee (named for its chairman, Sen. Frank Church of Idaho).

Now we have entered a new era, in which the director of the FBI, with his letter to Congress, is acting so recklessly as to harm the very process of democracy. It seems that he’s either signed off on an election-week records dump, via Twitter, from an old investigation of the Clinton Foundation, or has lost control of the agents who staff the FBI’s Twitter account. Either way, he’s made a choice to let chaos reign in the closing days of a presidential campaign.

Adele M. Stan is AlterNet’s senior Washington editor, and a weekly columnist for The American Prospect. Follow her on Twitter @addiestan.

IMAGE: FBI Director James Comey walks during a break in testimony during a House Judiciary hearing on “The Encryption Tightrope: Balancing Americans’ Security and Privacy” on Capitol Hill in Washington March 1, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Is Comey’s FBI Sitting On A Scandal That Could Destroy Trump’s Candidacy?

Reprinted with permission by AlterNet.

So, whatever happened with that FBI investigation of the hacks of the Democratic National Committee’s emails, as well as the email account of John Podesta, chairman of the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign? That’s what Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid wants to know. Reid claims the bureau is sitting on “explosive information” linking Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to the Russian government, which is implicated in those email hacks.

On Friday, FBI director James Comey threw the 2016 presidential race into turmoil with a vague letter sent to the chairmen of eight congressional committees informing them that his agency had located additional emails that may be pertinent to the ongoing investigation of the Democratic presidential nominee’s use of a private email server for conducting government business during her tenure as secretary of state. At the time the letter was delivered, Comey had not yet examined the emails, and he admitted that they might amount to a whole lot of nothin’. (The FBI has since obtained a warrant to seize the newly discovered cache.)

According to Reid, in a letter to Comey on Sunday, the FBI director “possess[es] explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisers, and the Russian government—a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States, which Trump praises at every opportunity.”

Reid continued: “I wrote to you months ago calling for this information to be released to the public…and yet, you continue to resist calls to inform the public of this critical information.”

The latest episode in the Clinton email saga involves the FBI’s investigation of former congressman Anthony Weiner of New York for allegedly sexting a 15-year-old girl in North Carolina. (Because the alleged crime took place across state lines, it is in the purview of the FBI.) During the course of that investigation, the FBI discovered emails from Clinton aide Huma Abedin on Weiner’s computer. Abedin is married to Weiner, but the two separated after Weiner’s last reported transgression in August, when he texted a woman a photograph of his bulging crotch as his four-year-old son napped in bed next to him.

Yet in a news conference, after news broke of one of the DNC email hacks and alleged Russian involvement in the breach, Trump invited Russia to have at Clinton’s private email server, despite whatever consequences that might portend for U.S. foreign policy. And Trump’s own involvement with Russian interests is well-documented.

In his letter to Comey, Reid also suggests that the nation’s top cop may have violated the Hatch Act, a law that forbids actions by members of the executive branch—including all employees of the federal government—from taking actions that could sway an election.

If legal action is taken against Comey charging a Hatch Act violation, it will create an interesting test of the law, which is more often applied to such situations as federal employees using their work emails for political purposes, or wearing campaign gear to work.

Read more from AlterNet on Donald Trump’s links to Russian figures.

Adele M. Stan is AlterNet’s senior Washington editor, and a weekly columnist for The American Prospect. Follow her on Twitter @addiestan.

IMAGE: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump points at the gathered media during his walk through at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, U.S., July 21, 2016. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

FBI Gets Email Warrant As Senator Reid, Bush Ethics Counsel Scorch Comey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Federal investigators have secured a warrant to examine newly discovered emails related to Hillary Clinton’s private server, a source familiar with the matter said on Sunday, as a prominent Democrat accused FBI Director James Comey of breaking the law by trying to influence the election.

The warrant will allow the Federal Bureau of Investigation to examine the emails to see if they are relevant to its probe of the private email server used for government work by Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, while she was secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.

Comey came under heavy pressure from Democrats on Sunday to quickly provide details of the emails, as Clinton allies worried the prolonged controversy could extend beyond the Nov. 8 election and cast a shadow over a Clinton transition if she wins the White House.

Comey’s disclosure of the email discovery in a letter to Congress on Friday plunged the final days of the White House race between Clinton and Republican Donald Trump into turmoil. Clinton had opened a recent lead over Trump in national polls, but it had been narrowing even before the email controversy resurfaced.

The unexpected turn in the email controversy shook financial markets’ conviction of a Clinton victory in the election and the U.S. dollar slipped against major currencies in early Asian trading on Monday.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid sent a letter to Comey on Sunday suggesting he violated the Hatch Act, which bars the use of a federal government position to influence an election.

“Through your partisan actions, you may have broken the law,” Reid, a senator from Nevada, said in the letter to Comey.

Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and campaign manager Robby Mook questioned Comey’s decision to send a letter notifying Congress of the email review before he even knew whether they were significant or relevant.

Comey’s letter was “long on innuendo, short on facts,” Podesta said on CNN’s State of the Union program, and accused the FBI chief of breaking precedent by disclosing aspects of an investigation so close to the election.

“We are calling on Mr. Comey to come forward and explain what’s at issue here,” Podesta said, adding the significance of the emails was unclear.

“He might have taken the first step of actually having looked at them before he did this in the middle of a presidential campaign, so close to the voting,” Podesta said.

Comey’s letter was sent over the objections of Justice Department officials. But those officials did not try to stop the FBI from getting the warrant, a source familiar with the decision said, because they are interested in the FBI moving quickly on the probe.

Sources close to the investigation have said the latest emails were discovered as part of a separate probe of former Democratic U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin.

Weiner is the target of an FBI investigation into illicit text messages he is alleged to have sent to a 15-year-old girl in North Carolina. The FBI already had a warrant to search Weiner’s laptop in that probe, but needed a warrant to look at the material that might be related to Clinton.

Sources familiar with the matter said FBI agents working on the Weiner investigation saw material on a laptop belonging to Weiner that led them to believe it might be relevant to the investigation of Clinton’s email practices.

Trump has highlighted the issue as proof for his argument that Clinton is corrupt and untrustworthy.

“We have one ultimate check on Hillary’s corruption and that is the power of the vote,” Trump told a rally in Las Vegas on Sunday. “The only way to beat the corruption is to show up and vote by the tens of millions.”

Comey, who announced in July that the FBI’s long investigation of Clinton’s emails was ending without any charges, said in his letter the agency would review the newly surfaced emails to determine their relevance to the investigation of her handling of classified information.

Richard Painter, a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School and the chief White House ethics lawyer from 2005 to 2007, said he filed a complaint over Comey’s actions with the Office of Special Counsel, which investigates Hatch Act violations.

“We cannot allow F.B.I. or Justice Department officials to unnecessarily publicize pending investigations concerning candidates of either party while an election is underway. That is an abuse of power,” he said in a column in the New York Times.

But Daniel Richman, a former federal prosecutor who now teaches at Columbia Law School, called the allegations that Comey improperly tried to influence the election “inane.”

“Comey’s critics cannot show his letter violated the Hatch Act unless they can prove that the FBI director was intending to influence the election rather than inform Congress, which was Comey’s stated aim,” said Richman, who said he had advised Comey on law enforcement policy but not this issue.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll released on Sunday showed Clinton with a statistically insignificant one-point national lead on Trump. About a third of likely voters in the poll said they were less likely to back Clinton given Comey’s disclosure.

Clinton, who told a Florida rally on Saturday that Comey’s letter was “deeply troubling,” did not address the issue directly on Sunday but referred vaguely to voters overcoming a “distraction.”

“There’s a lot of noise and distraction but it really comes down to the kind of future we want and who can get us there,” she told a packed gay nightclub in Wilton Manors, Florida, where hundreds of supporters who could not get in lined the streets outside.

“We don’t want a president who would appoint Supreme Court justices to overturn marriage equality,” she said.

(Additional reporting by Joel Schectman, Timothy Gardner, Alana Wise and Julia Harte in Washington, Steve Holland in Las Vegas and Roberta Rampton in Florida; Editing by Mary Milliken and Peter Cooney)

IMAGE: Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, December 18, 2015. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas