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As Clinton Camp Denied Reports of Criminal Inquiry, F.B.I. Was Investigating, Comey Says

Mr. Comey said the F.B.I. did not contradict the Clinton campaign at the time because it was not yet appropriate to confirm an investigation. “Still, the bitterly fought episode, parsing word choices, was only a small taste of what was to come, and many within the F.B.I. knew it,” he wrote.

For the Clinton campaign, minimizing the significance of the inquiry was important to prevent it from becoming a bigger political liability as she headed into the Democratic primary season. Indeed, when Mr. Comey was ready in October 2015 to publicly confirm the investigation, Loretta E. Lynch, President Barack Obama’s attorney general, instructed him to call it a “matter” instead. Ms. Lynch, he wrote, “seemed to be directing me to align with that Clinton campaign strategy.”

Jennifer Palmieri, who was Mrs. Clinton’s communications director and signed the campaign’s nearly 2,000-word criticism of the Times report, said on Friday that she and the other advisers did not know at the time of the July 2015 article that their candidate was under criminal investigation.

Pushing back against the Times report was a politically smart — and, she noted, effective — move by the campaign. She said she was “surprised” when the criminal investigation was later made public that The Times did not make a bigger deal of the fact that the paper had been right.

Asked to comment on Friday, Dean Baquet, the executive editor of The Times, said, “Mr. Comey’s account speaks for itself.”

Mr. Comey’s handling of the email inquiry has long been controversial. After a year of investigating, Mr. Comey concluded that no criminal charges were warranted against Mrs. Clinton, but he publicly criticized her for being “extremely careless” in handling sensitive information.

Three months later, shortly before the 2016 election, Mr. Comey announced that thousands of messages relevant to the inquiry had been discovered on the laptop of the estranged husband of one of Mrs. Clinton’s closest advisers. A week later, just two days before the election, Mr. Comey announced that a review of the emails had turned up no evidence to change his original conclusion.

Mrs. Clinton and her allies have long blamed Mr. Comey’s public announcement for shifting the momentum of the campaign in its final days, leading to the election of Donald J. Trump, the Republican candidate. In a book of her own last year, Mrs. Clinton said that Mr. Comey had “shivved” her.

Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey as F.B.I. director in May 2017 while Mr. Comey was overseeing an investigation into Russia’s interference in the campaign and whether there was collaboration with Mr. Trump’s campaign.

Mr. Trump originally cited a memo faulting Mr. Comey’s handling of Mrs. Clinton’s case in terms similar to criticisms lodged by Democrats, but later acknowledged that he was thinking about the Russia inquiry when he made the decision. He has since accused Mr. Comey of going too easy on Mrs. Clinton and has pressed the Justice Department to reopen the investigation into her emails.

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News credit : Nytimes