The search warrant that allowed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to search thousands of Hillary Clinton’s emails and which has been blamed for costing her the US presidential election had no legal basis, several prominent American lawyers have said.
The warrant, used by agents to access emails between Ms Clinton and her adviser Huma Abedin, was issued just nine days before the election and turned the race on its head.
It has been credited with helping Donald Trump catch up with and then overtake Ms Clinton at a time when she was ahead in the polls. The FBI’s decision to announce the new search triggered a huge backlash from lawyers, Justice Department officials and Clinton supporters.
The original warrant that gave investigators permission to search the emails was unsealed on Tuesday after a Los Angeles lawyer sued for its release. Its contents led some lawyers to claim the FBI should not have been allowed to carry out the search.
The new documents reveal FBI agents secured the warrant after assuring a federal judge there was “probable cause” to believe the emails, contained on a laptop belonging to Anthony Weiner, a former US congressman and estranged husband of Ms Abedin, contained illegal and classified materials.
In a signed affidavit, an FBI agent wrote: “There is probable cause to believe the subject laptop contains evidence, contraband, fruits, and/or other items illegally possessed in violation of [US law].
“There is also probable cause to believe that the correspondence between them located on the subject laptop contains classified information which was produced by and is owned by the U.S. government.”
However, legal experts questioned why the judge had agreed there was “probable cause” to suspect wrongdoing, given the lack of justification provided by the FBI.
E. Randol Schoenberg, the lawyer who secured the release of the documents, said after reviewing them he was “appalled” the warrant was granted.
He said: “I see nothing at all in the search warrant application that would give rise to probable cause, nothing that would make anyone suspect that there was anything on the laptop beyond what the FBI had already searched and determined not to be evidence of a crime, nothing to suggest that there would be anything other than routine correspondence between Secretary Clinton and her longtime aide Huma Abedin.”
Mrs Clinton’s lawyer, David E. Kendall, told the Washington Post the documents revealed the “extraordinary impropriety” of the FBI announcing the new investigation so close to polling day – a move he said “produced devastating but predictable damage politically and which was both legally unauthorised and factually unnecessary”.
But another attorney, Edward B. MacMahon Jr., said the FBI had acted correctly in obtaining the warrant.
He said: “Probable cause is such a low standard. The way I read this is they’re saying they found another computer that may have had additional emails on it, and they wanted to search that computer.
"That’s completely consistent with what the FBI would want to do in a case like this.”
FBI director James Comey announced the new investigation in a letter sent to the US Congress on 30th October – a move that sent the Clinton campaign reeling and threw the presidential race wide open.
He sent another letter the day before Election Day to announce the email searches had revealed no further wrongdoing on the part of Ms Clinton.
The controversy about the former Secretary of State’s use of a private email server has been blamed for costing her the election. Nate Silver, a respected US election analyst, said swing voters in key states moved towards Mr Trump after the FBI’s revelation.
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