House Republican Defends FBI Director Over Email Review

House judiciary chairman said Comey was right to "tell the American people."

— -- The Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee today defended FBI Director James Comey's decision to announce that his agency is reviewing newly-found messages in connection to the agency’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state.

Comey has come under fire from the Clinton campaign and other Democrats for his letter to congressional leaders on Friday announcing the review of the newly-discovered emails. The emails were found through a separate FBI investigation of former Congressman Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch and other top Justice Department officials discouraged Comey from alerting Congress of the unexpected discovery of the emails given the closeness of Election Day on Nov. 8 and department protocols designed to avoid the appearance of interference in an election. But House Judiciary Chairman Robert Goodlatte of Virginia said on ABC's "This Week" that the FBI's review of the newly-discovered emails is "a stunning new development" and announcing it was necessary.

Goodlatte said he believes the FBI director is aware of what he described as controversy within the FBI and Justice Department over Comey’s earlier announcement, in July, that no criminal charges were warranted in the Clinton email case.

"I think that he is very conscious of the controversy that has existed in the FBI and in the Justice Department" over the decision not to move forward with criminal charges in the matter, Goodlatte told ABC's George Stephanopoulos. But he defended the new announcement as an important update to that decision.

"Given the fact that Mrs. Clinton has been traveling around the country for three-and-a-half months saying that the FBI has cleared her of wrongdoing, that when there is new, and I believe, substantial information available, why wouldn't he tell the American people that this is still under investigation?"

However, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, who appeared in the same segment on "This Week," called Comey’s announcement of the email review a “terrible error in judgment."

"I think this was a terrible error in judgment by the director to release this kind of ambiguous letter," Rep. Adam Schiff of California said on ABC's "This Week." "That kind of an ambiguity bomb this close to the election" was a serious error, he said.

"It clearly wasn't in the public interest," Schiff added.

Schiff said Comey's announcement of the review of the newly-found emails "doesn't change that fundamental conclusion" by the agency against moving forward with a criminal case considering that the FBI director said he doesn't know if the new emails are significant to the Clinton email probe.

"If the director can't clean up this mess, and I hope he will try, I think he ought to acknowledge that he made a serious mistake, and underscore once again that there's nothing that alters that core conclusion he reached in July," Schiff said.

Goodlatte said he and the House Judiciary Committee's top Democrat, John Conyers of Michigan, were briefed by Comey on Saturday about the review of the newly-found emails.

“We both encouraged him to make sure that the American people have as much information as possible before they have to make a decision on November 8th,” Goodlatte said.

"He did not give us any response in terms of what more he could say," the judiciary committee chairman added. "But he certainly took that under advisement."