Talk about your October Surprise.
This isn’t just a mild final-days shocker. It’s a lightning bolt from the blue: The FBI has let it be known that it’s reviewing new e-mails in connection with its investigation of Hillary Clinton’s e-mail practices while secretary of state.
These new e-mails were reportedly on a device used by close Clinton aide Huma Adedin and husband Anthony Weiner, which was seized as part of a probe into Weiner’s e-mail issues.
The news was so startling and unexpected that GOP nominee Donald Trump barely had time to revise his conspiracy theories to take the new information into account.
Trump started his speech in the Queen City here glorying in new controversy clouding Clinton’s candidacy. Shortly thereafter, however, he launched into standard charge that everything is rigged against him. And began walking the audience through the tangled tale of how the PAC of close Clinton ally Terry McAuliffe, the governor of Virginia, made big contributions to a candidate (one of several candidates, though Trump didn’t say that) who was the wife of an FBI official who later became the bureau’s deputy director, and had a role in the FBI’s probe into Clinton’s use of a private server during her time as secretary of state.
Although one has to contort logic and timelines into a pretzel to make that theory work, Trump and his allies have done just that.
Except that this news makes those charges look silly. Which Trump himself seemed to realize even as he related the tangled web of information.
“But maybe now that takes care of itself,” mused the conspiratorialist candidate. “I am very proud that the FBI was willing to do this.”
So just to review the bidding: Only yesterday in Trumpland, the FBI was compromised and dishonest, its investigation rigged to protect Hillary Clinton. Today, it is apparently a fiercely proud and independent institution, willing to do what’s right regardless of the political consequences.
Let’s be clear: The FBI itself hasn’t changed. FBI Director James Comey hasn’t changed.
Why, after all, would a bureau that had declined to prosecute Clinton in June because it was, if detractors are to be believed, compromised and dishonest, suddenly take another look with only days left in the campaign?
But now, because the FBI action favors the Trump narrative of Clinton wrongdoing, everything may not be rigged after all.
Of course, Trump being Trump, he couldn’t just say he was wrong in his previous assertions that the agency had tanked its investigation.
Instead, he put it this way:
“I have great respect for the fact that the FBI and the DOJ are now willing to have the courage to right the horrible mistake that they made. This was a grave miscarriage of justice.”
Still, as cross-eyed conspiratorialist as the GOP nominee has been and is, this is a development that could scramble the final days of an election that has seemed all but over.
With Clinton in a commanding position, the Trump campaign has been desperately looking for something, anything, to change the dynamic.
It’s possible they have it. It’s hard to imagine that this second FBI probe will be completed by Election Day, which means that Clinton will be in a tricky spot indeed.
Those who believe she is a scheming, corrupt manipulator will see this as validation. Stories will spin that she will now face serious legal problems — and that will be adduced as a reason not to vote for her.
Count me skeptical, for this reason: Although Clinton has her flaws, I do not think, at core, that she is a scheming Lady Macbeth. I doubt much that matters will be found here. It may be more carelessness, but I doubt the FBI will find the intent it needs to bring a case.
Still, a lot will hinge on how Clinton handles this. She’ll need to be forthright, open, and honest about what she knows.
It’s also incumbent on the FBI, having intervened this way, this late in the election, to provide as much information as possible to voters so they can make a reasonably informed judgment. It would be a monumental travesty if this news somehow tipped the election to Trump, only to have the FBI come forward later and say nothing untoward happened.
I still think Hillary Clinton will be the next president. But let’s be honest: We are in uncharted territory here.Scot Lehigh can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.Better late than never on new FBI e-mail inquiryDid Comey give Trump a last-minute lifeline?