DES MOINES, Iowa
A new shock hit Hillary Clinton’s campaign Friday in the unpredictable and often unbelievable presidential race: The FBI is looking into whether there was classified information on a device belonging to the estranged husband of one of her closest aides.
Adding to the drama of the stunning revelation: The FBI uncovered the emails during a sexting investigation of Anthony Weiner, the disgraced ex-congressman who is separated from longtime Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
The Democrat said late Friday she was confident whatever the FBI may find would not change its conclusion from earlier this year – that her use of a private email system as secretary of state did not merit prosecution.
“We don’t know the facts, which is why we are calling on the FBI to release all the information that it has,” Clinton said. “Even [FBI] Director [James] Comey noted that this new information might not be significant, so let’s get it out.”
The news arrived with Clinton holding a solid advantage in the presidential race. Early voting has been underway for weeks, and she has a steady lead in preference polls. But the development all but ensures that, even should she win the White House, the Democrat and several of her closest aides would celebrate victory under a cloud of investigation.
It was a day that thrilled Republicans eager to change the trajectory of the race, none moreso than GOP nominee Donald Trump.
“Hillary Clinton’s corruption is on a scale we have never seen before,” Trump said while campaigning in battleground New Hampshire. “We must not let her take her criminal scheme into the Oval Office.”
Democrats, still confident Clinton will prevail in 11 days, were enraged by Comey’s decision to disclose the existence of the fresh investigation in a vaguely worded letter to several congressional leaders.
“The FBI has a history of extreme caution near Election Day so as not to influence the results,” said California Sen. Dianne Feinstein. She added, accusingly, “Today’s break from that tradition is appalling.”
It wasn’t until hours after Comey’s letter emerged that word came that the source of the new emails was Weiner, the former congressman under investigation for sending sexually explicit text messages to a teenage girl.
“We don’t know what to believe,” Clinton said, adding, “Right now, your guess is as good as mine, and I don’t think that’s good enough.”
The development also reignited persistent worries among Democrats that electing the former first lady will restart a cycle of scandal and investigation that could rival the final portion of her husband’s term in office.
Congressional Republicans have already promised years of investigations into Clinton’s private email system. And that’s only one of the email-related controversies facing her. The tens of thousands of confidential emails from Clinton campaign insiders that were hacked – she and the government say by Russia – and then released by WikiLeaks have provided a steady stream of questions about her policy positions, personnel choices and ties with her husband’s sprawling charitable network and post-presidential pursuits.
In his Friday letter to congressional leaders, Comey wrote only that new emails have emerged, prompting the agency to “take appropriate investigative steps” to review the information that may be pertinent to its previously closed investigation into Clinton’s private email system.
The FBI ended that investigation in July without filing charges, although Comey said then that Clinton and her aides had been “extremely careless” in using the system for communications about government business.
The agency, which did not respond to questions about Comey’s letter and did not lay out a timeline for the review, is also investigating the recent hacks of the emails of John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman.
As Clinton and her campaign have been pounded by allegations and embarrassing revelations related to the hacked emails, they’ve largely avoided engaging in the details. Instead, they’ve focused on blaming the Russians.
“These are illegally stolen documents,” Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said earlier in the day on her campaign plane. “We’re not going to spend our campaign fighting back what the Russians want this to be about.”
That may be because Clinton hasn’t yet felt the political pressure. Recent surveys show her retaining her lead in national polls and making gains in some swing states. In fact, her campaign announced plans to hold a rally in Arizona next Wednesday, a traditionally red state put in play by Trump’s deep unpopularity among minority voters, Mormons and business leaders.
To the frustration of many in his party, Trump has struggled to consistently drive an attack against Clinton, often turning to personal denunciations of private citizens he feels have wronged him, like the Gold Star family of Captain Humayun Khan, a Muslim-American soldier killed in action.
That may be changing. He quickly pounced on the email news, seeing an opportunity to press the argument he’s long tried to make against Clinton: that she thinks she’s above the law and that she put U.S. security at risk by using her personal email.
After weeks of declaring the race “rigged” in favor of his opponent, Trump declared Friday he has “great respect” for the FBI and the Justice Department, now that they are “willing to have the courage to right the horrible mistake that they made” in concluding the investigation earlier.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz urged the FBI to “follow the facts, wherever they lead.” President Barack Obama plans to travel to support Clinton nearly every day that’s left in the campaign.
“He’s going to be proud to support her from now until Election Day,” Schultz said.