Former Attorney General Eric Holder assailed FBI Director James Comey for divulging that the bureau is reviewing newly discovered emails that may be relevant to the Hillary Clinton email server investigation, while the White House spokesman said he won't defend or criticize Comey.
Holder said with his letter to Congress, Comey unleashed "a torrent of conspiracy theories and misrepresentations."
"That decision was incorrect," Holder writes in an op-ed in Monday's editions of The Washington Post. "It violated longstanding Justice Department policies and tradition."
Holder was referring to Comey's notification to the Republican heads of congressional committees that the scrutiny of Clinton's emails was being resumed in light of information turned up in connection with an unrelated investigation. That probe involves former Rep. Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of Clinton aide and confidant Huma Abedin.
Holder said the Justice Department "has a policy of not taking unnecessary action close in time to Election Day that might influence an election's outcome."
"He is a man of integrity and honor. I respect him," Holder said of Comey. But he added that "good men make mistakes. In this instance, he has committed a serious error with potentially severe implications."
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday that his "lack of independent knowledge" prevents him from weighing on Comey's decision to send a letter to Congress regarding the investigation.
"I won’t criticize nor defend" what Comey has communicated in public about the investigation, Earnst said.
Earnest said there are significant institutional responsibilities that the Department of Justice must fulfill. He said that President Obama believes "Director Comey is a man of integrity. He's a man of principle and he's a man of good character."
Earnest said Obama believes that Comey isn't trying to help one presidential candidate over another.
He said Comey is in a tough spot, but the FBI director is in the best position to defend his actions in the face of significant criticism.
A law enforcement source familiar with the investigation into the Clinton e-mail server told CNBC that 650,000 was the total number of e-mails found on the Abedin/Weiner laptop dating back years. Officials expect that the number of e-mails relevant to the Clinton probe will be a much smaller subset of that number.
Abedin didn't know these emails were on the computer, a law enforcement source told CNBC. Abedin and or her attorney were in contact with the FBI over the weekend, the source told CNBC.