In the past 24 hours, two high-profile figures from opposite sides of the political spectrum have accused FBI Director James B. Comey of potentially and illegally influencing the presidential election. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) made the accusation in a letter Sunday night, and Richard Painter, who was an ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush administration, said the same thing in a New York Times op-ed published Sunday.
Their line in the sand: the Hatch Act, a Depression-era law that prohibits government employees from using their taxpayer-funded office to play politics. Local government officials have gotten in trouble via the legislation for running for an elected, partisan office. Same with Cabinet secretaries Congress .
It can be a career-ending error. The Office of Special Counsel, a federal watchdog agency, investigates and subsequently determines violations of the Hatch Act. Running afoul of the regulations can cost an official their position.
So did Comey, a Republican, try to influence the campaign by telling Congress 11 days before the presidential election that he found emails "pertinent" to the FBI's deactivated investigation of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's private email server? It's possible, says Kathleen Clark, an expert on legal ethics at Washington University in St. Louis. It probably comes down Comey's intent -- and something he said Friday could be construed as intending to influence what happens Nov. 8.