The FBI believed that emails on a laptop belonging to Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin contained classified information, according to a search warrant unsealed Tuesday, which the attorney who filed a suit to see the warrant's contents said didn't show probable cause.
“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,” E. Randol Schoenberg, a Los Angeles-based Holocaust attorney, said in a statement.
But in seeking the warrant, an FBI agent noted in an affidavit [pdf] that “there is probable cause to believe the subject laptop contains evidence, contraband, fruits, and/or other items illegally possessed” that violated the law.
The bureau's decision to investigate the emails -- discovered in a probe of alleged sexting by Abedin's husband, former Congressman Anthony Weiner with a minor -- as they might relate to an earlier investigation of Clinton's use of a private email server set off a firestorm just 11 days before the presidential election.
FBI Director James Comey, who informed Congress via letter of his decision to continue the investigation after previously having cleared Clinton of wrongdoing, was widely criticized for what some saw as a political ploy intended to compromise Clinton's White House run, particularly after reports surfaced that he kept mum about allegations that Russia was meddling in the election.
"It's impossible to view this as anything less than a blatant double standard," Robby Mook, Clinton's campaign manager, told reporters at the time. "That Director Comey would show more discretion in a matter concerning a foreign state actor than one involving the Democratic nominee for president is nothing short of jaw dropping."
The embattled FBI director indicated that he had alerted Congress before scrutinizing the newly discovered emails because he feared the information would be leaked. But two days before the election Comey announced that a review of the emails turned up nothing to make the agency revise its recommendation not to prosecute Clinton.
At the time that the bureau petitioned the court, though, the warrant shows that the FBI believed there was “also probable cause to believe that the correspondence” on Weiner's laptop contained “classified information which was produced by and is owned by the U.S. government.”