FBI review dominating run-up to Election Day

Hillary Clinton spoke Sunday at a rally in Wilton Manors, Fla.
Hillary Clinton spoke Sunday at a rally in Wilton Manors, Fla.

WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump spun dueling narratives Sunday about the FBI’s late-October e-mail thunderbolt, beginning their final nine-day sprint amid deep uncertainty about what messages the FBI discovered, when it found them, and what effect the agency’s startling disclosure will have on the presidential contest.

Trump and his allies attempted to use FBI Director James Comey’s Friday disclosure of a new e-mail review to renew arguments that Clinton is untrustworthy and make a late bid to close Trump’s gap in the polls. Clinton forces worked furiously to cast doubt on Comey’s unusual maneuver and urged the director to release more information about what his agents have found — seeking to bolster the campaign’s view that the e-mails contain nothing significant.

Since Friday, news reports have revealed that the FBI was seeking court authority to review the e-mails. On Sunday evening, sources told major news outlets that the Justice Department has received a search warrant allowing it to read the files. Also, it was reported over the weekend that agents might have been aware of the messages for weeks — raising further questions about why Comey dropped his bombshell just 11 days before an American presidential election.


Early polling showed Comey’s public disclosure of renewed focus on e-mails is having an effect on the election. The news was dampening enthusiasm for Clinton among a slice of her supporters and invigorating Trump’s voters, according to an ABC/Washington Post tracking poll released early Sunday morning.

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About a third of voters said they’re “less likely” to support Clinton in the wake of the new FBI disclosure, the poll showed. But most of those were already leaning toward Trump.

Clinton, who before Friday had appeared to be closing in on a victory, struck a stoic note Sunday as she sought to weather the latest controversy.

At a rally with gay and lesbian supporters in Florida, she vowed not to be “knocked off course.’’

‘‘I’m not stopping now; we’re just getting warmed up,’’ Clinton declared. ‘‘We’re not going to be distracted, no matter what our opponents throw at us.’’


Trump continued capitalizing on his good fortune.

‘‘Hillary has nobody but herself to blame for her mounting legal problems,’’ Trump said during a rally in Las Vegas.

“We’re again reminded why a majority of Americans already don’t trust her,” said Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“The American people are focusing on the big issues in this country. But frankly, I think they’ve also come to the conclusion that Hillary Clinton is a risky choice to be the next president,” said Governor Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate, on “Meet the Press.”

Clinton’s running mate, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, acknowledged on ABC’s “This Week” that the FBI disclosures are “a distraction in the last nine days” of the election.


On Friday, Comey dropped a political bombshell when he revealed to Congress that the agency has discovered “e-mails that appear to be pertinent” to their dormant investigation into how Clinton handled classified information while she was secretary of state. But FBI agents initially did not have a warrant to review the e-mails they found and therefore had not read them, according to several news reports.

These messages were found on the laptop belonging to Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s, according to the reports. He’s under a separate federal investigation for lewd online conversations he’s had with underaged girls.

Marc Elias, Clinton’s campaign attorney, turned to Twitter to speculate that Comey penned his brief, cryptic disclosure letter to Congress Friday only “because he couldn’t get a warrant” to review the e-mails his agency had found.

“He sent the letter to head off suggestion by GOP that he wasn’t being ‘aggressive,’ ” Elias wrote.

Huma Abedin (right) worked on her laptop during a Clinton rally last week in Manchester, N.H.
Huma Abedin (right) worked on her laptop during a Clinton rally last week in Manchester, N.H.

Abedin has told friends that she does not know how her e-mails would have gotten on to her husband’s computer because she rarely used it, according to The Washington Post. Her lawyers never searched his computer for work-related e-mails, according to the report, because she didn’t believe any of them were on the device.

Still, the disclosures from the FBI left the two campaigns swapping themes. After spending months deriding the FBI as part of the corrupt system Trump is running against, his team suddenly had nothing but praise for Comey.

“I’ve always found him to be a straight shooter,” Pence said on “Meet the Press.” Pence said the decision to write a letter to Congress was “encouraging to millions of Americans” because it showed Comey “is keeping his word to the Congress.”

And Clinton’s surrogates were suddenly questioning this pillar of the establishment that their campaign has long bolstered. They used the same word “unprecedented” to describe the FBI’s decision to tell Congress about a development it hadn’t actually assessed.

“Why would you release information that is so incomplete — when you haven’t even seen the material yourself — 11 days before an election?” Kaine asked on “This Week.” “Why would you talk about an ongoing investigation? I have — I just have no way of understanding these actions.”

“It’s just very curious,” Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said on “Meet The Press.”

He said the campaign has no insight on what the investigators have found. “We don’t know whose e-mails they’re talking about,” Mook said. “We don’t know how many.”

Mook said the disclosure prompted an outpouring of support for Clinton, revealing that the campaign had their “best Saturday of fund-raising ever” the day following the FBI’s disclosure.

Without new details from the FBI, however, the Trump campaign was left re-litigating events from July. Pence reminded voters about the unusual meeting between Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former president Bill Clinton days before the Department of Justice said it would not prosecute.

FBI director James Comey in July.
Al Drago/New York Times/File
FBI director James Comey in July.

He also rehashed Comey’s testimony to Congress, made days after he laid out a public case for why his agency was recommending not to prosecute Clinton. “She had e-mailed classified information,” Pence said. “That’s a violation of the law.”

Democrats said they were unsettled by the news but not worried it would change the outcome. Mary Anne Marsh, a Democratic strategist based in Boston, said the developments could affect some voters “on the very slimmest of margins” but is confident Clinton will win.

“Other than giving Trump some pep in his step, I don’t think it’s going to change votes,” she said. “If you look at all the polls, even if this did change the race by a point or two, and I don’t believe it will, she is still ahead in all the battleground states.”

Privately, many Republican strategists believe the presidential campaign is already lost.

Others said they’re focusing on how the FBI disclosures will affect Senate and House races.

“The down ballot drag will only get worse for Democrats,” said Colin Reed with the anti-Clinton group America Rising. “Democratic Senate candidates have gotten tripped up when they’ve been asked why they feel Hillary Clinton is trustworthy when the majority of voters in their state don’t.”

“She’s going to continue to be a millstone around them; that’s where I definitely think this will have a big impact in the next few days.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Annie Linskey can be reached at annie.linskey@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @annielinskey.