Many are criticizing Comey's actions because they're overtly political. He went against department norms and defied instruction from senior Justice Department leaders. Former Department of Justice officials have been questioning Comey's decision.
"I got a lot of respect for Jim Comey, but I don't understand this idea of dropping this bombshell which could be a big dud," said former federal prosector Peter Zeidenberg, a veteran of politically sensitive investigations. "Doing it in the last week or 10 days of a presidential election without more information, I don't think that he should because how does it inform a voter? It just invites speculation ... I would question the timing of it. It's not going to get done in a week."
Justice department officials have stated Comey's decision to send the letter broke with protocol.
“Director Comey understood our position. He heard it from Justice leadership,” said one Justice Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the high-level conversations. “It was conveyed to the FBI, and Comey made an independent decision to alert the Hill. He is operating independently of the Justice Department. And he knows it.”
"I do think that there is a norm that when there are investigations, we don't operate on innuendo and we don't operate on incomplete information and we don't operate on leaks. We operate based on concrete decisions that are made."
If we take Comey and the FBI at their word, the bureau has been forced into an impossible situation. If the FBI waited until after the election to act, it would have been skewered by a GOP-controlled Congress for hiding potentially election-changing information from the public.
Of course, we don’t ordinarily tell Congress about ongoing investigations, but here I feel an obligation to do so given that I testified repeatedly in recent months that our investigation was completed. I also think it would be misleading to the American people were we not to supplement the record. At the same time, however, given that we don’t know the significance of this newly discovered collection of emails, I don’t want to create a misleading impression. In trying to strike that balance, in a brief letter and in the middle of an election season, there is significant risk of being misunderstood, but I wanted you to hear directly from me about it.
The FBI's statement regarding the Marc Rich document dump:
"The FBI's Records Management Division receives thousands of FOIA requests annually which are processed on a first in, first out (FIFO) basis. By law, FOIA materials that have been requested three or more times are posted electronically to the FBI's public reading room shortly after they are processed. Per the standard procedure for FOIA, these materials became available for release and were posted automatically and electronically to the FBI's public reading room in accordance with the law and established procedures."
There’s also a political dimension. Had Comey not told Congress and it emerged after the election that new materials had come into its possession, the director and his entire agency’s credibility might have been questioned. In his letter, Comey did not use the phrase being touted by Republicans that the case had been reopened. Technically it was never closed. Nor did he signal at all about the importance or unimportance about the emails.