FBI discovered Hillary Clinton-related emails weeks ago

Hillary Clinton (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Hillary Clinton (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — The discovery of a trove of emails from one of Hillary Clinton’s top aides occurred weeks ago, law enforcement officials told CNN.

But the FBI didn’t disclose the discovery until Friday, raising questions about why the information was kept under wraps and then released only days before the election.

The emails from Clinton aide Huma Abedin were found on a computer belonging to her estranged husband, Anthony Weiner.

CNN reported on September 22 that prosecutors in Manhattan had issued a subpoena for Weiner’s communications as part of an investigation into alleged sexting with an underage girl.

FBI criminal investigators soon after stumbled on the Abedin emails.

By early October, it was clear to investigators that the emails may relate to the Clinton email server investigation, law enforcement officials said.

But internal discussions at the FBI about how to proceed continued over the ensuing weeks.

The delay was first reported by the Washington Post.

In his Friday letter to Congress, FBI Director James Comey said he was briefed on the new findings a day earlier. He didn’t say when he first learned of the existence of the emails.

FBI officials moved to disclose the development then because they feared the information would leak otherwise, law enforcement officials said.

Comey’s notification to Congress of the review is rocking the final days of the presidential race. Democrats are furious that Comey would revive the explosive issue of Clinton’s email server so close to the election. Donald Trump, meanwhile, is seizing on the review after spending weeks on the defense, hoping it will be a potent issue he can ride until the end of the contest.

Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta blasted Comey on Sunday for disclosing the review.

“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 on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Justice Department and FBI officials are working to secure approval that would allow the FBI to conduct a full search of Abedin’s newly discovered emails, sources familiar with the discussions told CNN.

Government lawyers haven’t yet approached Abedin’s lawyers to seek an agreement to conduct the search. Sources earlier told CNN that those discussions had begun, but the law enforcement officials now say they have not.

Either way, government lawyers plan to seek a search warrant from a judge to conduct the search of the computer, the law enforcement officials said.

The issue is complicated because the computer is considered to belong to Weiner, and the case may raise spousal privilege legal protections for Abedin.

Government lawyers hope to secure the warrant to permit investigators to review thousands of emails on a computer Abedin shared with Weiner, officials said.

The new search warrant is needed because the existing authorization, covered by a subpoena, related only to the ongoing investigation of Weiner, who is accused of having sexually explicit communications with an underage girl.

Investigators from the FBI’s New York field office who are conducting the Weiner investigation stumbled on the Abedin emails while they were reviewing emails and other communications on the computer, which was considered to belong to Weiner, the officials said. They stopped their work and called in the team of investigators from FBI headquarters who conducted the probe of Clinton’s private email server.

Abedin’s lawyers didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The investigators saw enough of the emails to determine that they appeared pertinent to the previously completed investigation and that they may be emails not previously reviewed.

Because they don’t have a warrant specific to Abedin’s emails, officials have not been able to further examine them. Justice Department and FBI officials view Abedin as cooperative with the investigation.

FBI officials yet don’t know how many of the emails are duplicates of emails they already have reviewed as part of the Clinton email server investigation and whether any of them may contain classified information.

Investigators believe it’s likely the newly recovered trove will include emails that were deleted from the Clinton server before the FBI took possession of it as part of that earlier investigation.