James Comey's decision to inform Congress that the FBI had discovered emails on a laptop belonging to disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner that may be relevant to the investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private server has roiled the presidential campaign with days to go before the election. His letter provided little details about the emails, leaving the ambiguous discloser subject to interpretation and wild speculation by Trump supporters.
At a Friday rally, Donald Trump hailed the news as "bigger than Watergate," even though all of the emails may be just copies of those released earlier to the FBI. Trump, who has fallen behind Clinton in the polls, now has an issue to exploit to take attention away from charges against him of sexual assault that have hurt his campaign in recent weeks.
The Clinton campaign has criticized Comey for breaking with Justice Department protocol by commenting on an ongoing investigation, and doing anything that could be viewed as influencing the election. A Justice Department official confirmed to The Washington Post that they advised Comey. "It was conveyed to the FBI, and Comey made an independent decision to alert the Hill," the official said, "He is operating independently of the Justice Department. And he knows it." Comey had received sharp criticism last July from Republicans when he announced that he recommended no criminal charges be brought against Clinton for her use of a private email server. Comey is a Republican. In his letter to Congress, Comey said he feared that word of the newly found emails would leak and suggest a cover-up. The Washington Post reported that FBI agents knew weeks ago about the latest emails and waited until recently to brief Comey. This raises further questions about the FBI's handling of this matter.
Clinton spoke of the revelations at a Saturday appearance in Daytona, Florida. "Of course Donald Trump is already making up lies about this," she said. "He is doing his best to confuse, mislead and discourage the American people." Clinton campaign manager Robby Mock called on the FBI to release the emails. "Just get it all out there and the voters can judge for themselves," he said on Fox News Sunday.
Before the disclosers, polls showed the race between Clinton and Trump had been tightening. Trump has enjoyed the ardent support of his loyalists despite his many gaffes and recent charges of sexual abuse from 12 women. He was recorded on an NBC's Access Hollywood video talking about sexual abuse. He later described it as "locker room" talk, and has threatened to sue the women and NBC. During his campaign Trump has humiliated his opponents, he has disparaged war heroes, and he has consistently insulted women, Mexicans and Muslims. Trump has refused to release his tax returns, which is standard practice for recent presidential candidates, and many of his business dealings have faced serious scrutiny. Trump has fought back by blaming the "dishonest media" for his transgressions.
Trump has consistently displayed a lack of understanding of foreign policy. He has advocated the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and the possible dissolution of NATO. He has often praised Russian President Vladimir Putin as a strong leader, he has invited Russian hackers to go after Clinton's emails, and he has claimed he has a secret plan to eliminate ISIS. He has also attacked fellow Republicans, like House Speaker Paul Ryan, and he has caused a huge rift within the Republican Party. Recently, he has supported efforts to suppress votes, especially in urban areas that are heavily populated by traditional Democratic voters, like African Americans and Hispanics.
Both Clinton and Trump have low favorability ratings among a majority of likely American voters. But, despite her trust issues, and the fact that she should not have used a private email server, Clinton is one of the most experienced candidates to seek the presidency. Yet the winds of change are blowing heavily in favor of Trump, as they often do after one party holds the White House for two terms. So even the hint of an additional problem with Clinton's emails can drive independents voters, as well has some soft Clinton supporters, away from the voting booth, while firming up Trump's support with doubtful Republicans. As Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta observed, "There's no evidence of wrongdoing, no charge of wrongdoing, no indication that this is even about Hillary." But there may be enough misinterpretation to confuse voters on Election Day.
As a result, America may elect the least qualified and most unpredictable presidential candidate ever in its history to the White House.