Fresh FBI investigation into email scandal catches Democratic campaign offguard, sending it into a tailspin
US Democratic presidential Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign rally in Des Moines, Iowa, on October 28, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / Jewel SAMAD)
DES MOINES, Iowa (AFP) — A political earthquake triggered by a fresh FBI email probe rocked Hillary Clinton and her White House campaign Friday, but they weren’t even on the ground to feel it hit.
Clinton and her team were on her plane, gliding toward the next campaign rally — and a likely election victory on November 8 — oblivious to the shockwaves convulsing the political world below.
The impeccably qualified candidate appeared to be in prime position against Donald Trump, the rabble-rousing Republican firebrand whose self-destructive streak was sending his own campaign into a spiral.
The Democratic frontrunner’s team sounded downright chipper as they began the morning by revealing their confident strategy to push into Republican-leaning Arizona next week as the former secretary of state seeks to deny her billionaire rival any breathing room just 11 days before Election Day.
Voter “complacency” was the biggest enemy, campaign manager Robby Mook told reporters on Clinton’s jet.
But as Clinton flew to Iowa, another state where Trump had been leading before polls tightened dramatically, it was revealed that the FBI was taking a fresh look at newly discovered emails related to Clinton’s use of a private server.
The revelations spread like wildfire, but not to Clinton’s plane, where poor wifi connectivity kept nearly everyone in the dark as Mook and communications director Jennifer Palmieri presided in a press gaggle.
Moments later, when a reporter read a tweet about the Federal Bureau of Investigation revisiting Clinton’s emails and asked a Clinton aide for a reaction, he appeared caught unaware and hustled to the front of the aircraft.
A tumultuous campaign day ensued, with Clinton’s Arizona ploy all but forgotten as advisors scrambled into damage control mode.
Campaign chairman John Podesta issued a terse statement demanding that FBI director James Comey “immediately” provide more information after he wrote lawmakers announcing that the bureau would review the new-found emails.
But from the front of the plane: radio silence.
When Clinton disembarked in Cedar Rapids, delayed somewhat due to an onboard photo shoot by legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz, she waved and smiled but ignored reporters’ shouted questions.
She also made no mention of the controversy at her two rallies in Iowa.
By late afternoon, with the FBI probe dominating the news cycle and Trump branding it “the biggest political scandal since Watergate,” Clinton felt the need to get her own voice into the story.
After her rally at a Des Moines high school, reporters were hustled into a small gymnasium where a podium with a blue “Stronger Together” sign stood in front of six American flags.
Clinton strode in and offered a defiant statement.
“The American people deserve to get the full and complete facts immediately,” she said. “We are calling on the FBI to release all the information that it has.”
Clinton said she learned about the FBI letter as reporters did, when it was released by Republican lawmakers.
“I’m confident whatever they are will not change the conclusion reached in July,” she said of the emails.
But the issue is surely uncomfortable.
According to the New York Times, the newly discovered mails emerged after agents seized electronic devices used by Clinton’s closest aide, Huma Abedin, and Abedin’s husband Anthony Weiner.
Weiner, a former congressman who resigned in 2011 after he was exposed for sending explicit online messages, is under investigation over allegations that he sent sexual messages to an underage girl.
After the Des Moines rally, Abedin was seen talking on the telephone outside the venue, but she did not speak with reporters.
Voters at her rallies appeared nonplussed.
“I don’t think it’ll end up making any difference. It isn’t a bombshell to me,” insisted Megan Claypool, 44, an attorney from Des Moines who attended Clinton’s rally here.
“If you look at the facts of what’s in the letter… it’s not saying that secretary Clinton did anything wrong,” Claypool added.
Comey’s letter to lawmakers said the FBI “can not yet assess whether or not this material may be significant.”