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Hillary Clinton's Emails, Explained

The political world convulsed on Friday. Seemingly out of nowhere, the FBI lurched into the 2016 presidential election, a truly historic development that dragged Hillary Clinton’s emails - not to mention Anthony Weiner - firmly into the spotlight with less than two weeks to go until Election Day. So what does it all mean? Here’s what you need to know.

So what exactly happened on Friday?

James Comey, the director of the FBI, sent a vaguely worded letter to Congress, saying the bureau had discovered information related to its previous investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state. The information, according to Comey’s letter, came from a separate investigation.

In connection with an unrelated case, the FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation. I am writing to inform you that the investigation team briefed me on this yesterday, and I agreed that the FBI should take appropriate investigative steps designed to allow investigators to review these emails to determine whether they contain classified information, as well as to assess their importance to our investigation.

In other words, agents discovered emails that might have come from Clinton’s private email server. The FBI is not, as some reports suggested, reopening its investigation into Clinton’s emails - at least not yet. Instead, agents plan to review those emails.

Let’s back up for a moment. What’s the deal with Clinton’s emails?

Shortly before Clinton became secretary of state in 2009, she set up a private email server in her home. She also created accounts on that server for her close aides, including Huma Abedin.

Her use of this private email server fell into a “grey area," according to the BBC, because the State Department enacted new rules after she became secretary of state saying government employees can use private email only if federal records were preserved. Basically, if Clinton is discussing plans for her granddaughter’s birthday party, the government doesn’t need to know about it. If, however, she’s discussing a diplomatic mission to China on that server, then those records need to be kept.

Clinton maintained that she followed this rule because, as the BBC points out, most of her emails from that private server were sent or forwarded to people with official government accounts. Officials prior to Clinton, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell, also used private email.

In March 2015, The New York Times broke the story that Clinton may have violated State Department rules because she didn’t take appropriate steps to preserve her government emails. This report ignited the firestorm over her emails even before her presidential campaign began. Clinton handed over 30,000 emails, which was 55,000 pages, for review, according to ABC News.