Sunday, October 30, 2016

Hillary Clinton Assails James Comey, Calling Email Decision ‘Deeply Troubling’
New York Times
OCT. 29, 2016

Hillary Clinton and her allies sprang onto a war footing on Saturday, opening a ferocious attack on the F.B.I.’s director, James B. Comey, a day after he disclosed that his agency was looking into a potential new batch of messages from her private email server.

Treating Mr. Comey as a threat to her candidacy, Mrs. Clinton took aim at the law enforcement officer who had recommended no criminal charges less than four months earlier for her handling of classified information as secretary of state.

“It’s pretty strange to put something like that out with such little information right before an election,” Mrs. Clinton said at a rally in Daytona Beach, Fla. “In fact, it’s not just strange; it’s unprecedented and it is deeply troubling.”

For Democrats, it was also deeply worrying. Mrs. Clinton’s advisers expressed concern that the F.B.I.’s renewed attention to emails relating to the nominee would turn some voters against her, hurt party candidates in competitive House and Senate races, and complicate efforts to win over undecided Americans in the final days of the election.

The decision to target Mr. Comey for his unusual decision to publicly disclose the inquiry came during an 8 a.m. internal conference call, after aides saw reports that Justice Department officials were furious, believing he had violated longstanding guidelines advising against such actions so close to an election.

Even before Mrs. Clinton spoke in Florida, her campaign chairman, John D. Podesta, and campaign manager, Robby Mook, criticized Mr. Comey for putting out incomplete information and breaking with Justice Department protocol.

“By providing selective information, he has allowed partisans to distort and exaggerate to inflict maximum political damage,” Mr. Podesta said during a conference call with reporters. “Comey has not been forthcoming with the facts,” he added, describing the director’s letter to Congress on Friday as “long on innuendo.”

Whatever shortcomings Mrs. Clinton may have as a candidate, Saturday’s coordinated effort showed that the political organization that she, her husband and her allies had built over decades remained potent and would not let what seemed like victory erode easily. By midday, Mr. Comey, a Republican appointed by President Obama and confirmed nearly unanimously by the Senate, found himself in its cross hairs.

Encouraged by Mrs. Clinton’s senior aides to reframe the story and make it about Mr. Comey’s actions, liberal groups such as the Congressional Black Caucus demanded that he release more information. Other surrogates were emailed talking points prodding them to deem it “extraordinary that 11 days before the election a letter like this — with so few details — would be sent to 8 Republican committee chairmen.” (Ranking Democrats on the committees also received copies.)

Mr. Comey has not publicly commented on the investigation, other than with the letter saying that more emails were being examined. He also wrote an email to F.B.I. employees explaining that he felt he had to inform Congress even though the agency did not yet know “the significance of this newly discovered collection of emails.”

With Mrs. Clinton leading Donald J. Trump in nearly every battleground state, Clinton advisers were emphatic that they would not be thrown off stride. They said they would not change any political strategy, television advertising or campaign travel plans.

For months, the F.B.I. had investigated whether Mrs. Clinton had broken any laws by using a private email server while she was secretary of state. This past summer, Mr. Comey said that Mrs. Clinton had been “extremely careless” by allowing sensitive information to be discussed outside secure government servers, but that the agency had concluded that Mrs. Clinton had not committed a crime. The investigation was closed.

But on Friday, Mr. Comey notified Congress that the agency had discovered emails, possibly relevant to the investigation, that belonged to Mrs. Clinton’s top aide, Huma Abedin. The emails were discovered on the computer of Ms. Abedin’s estranged husband, Anthony D. Weiner, during a separate investigation into allegations that he had exchanged sexually explicit messages with a teenager.

According to several Clinton advisers, Mrs. Clinton told them overnight and on Saturday that she wanted the campaign to operate normally, not rashly, while pressuring Mr. Comey to dispel any possibility that her candidacy was under legal threat.

But the Clinton team also had to deal with a newly emboldened Mr. Trump, who urged voters at a rally on Saturday in Golden, Colo., to oppose Mrs. Clinton because of her “criminal action” that was “willful, deliberate, intentional and purposeful.”

Handed a new opening against Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Trump used the moment to baselessly claim there had been an internal F.B.I. “revolt” and made a sexually suggestive joke about Mr. Weiner.

“As Podesta said, she’s got bad instincts,” Mr. Trump said, distorting a comment in one of the thousands of Mr. Podesta’s hacked emails recently released by WikiLeaks. “Well, she’s got bad instincts when her emails are on Anthony Weiner’s wherever.”

The paramount fear among Clinton advisers and Democratic officials was that an election that had become a referendum on Mr. Trump’s fitness for office, and that had increasingly seemed to be Mrs. Clinton’s to lose, would now become just as much about her conduct.

In phone calls, email chains and text messages on Saturday, Clinton aides and allies were by turns confident that the F.B.I. would find nothing to hurt Mrs. Clinton and concerned that the inquiry would nudge demoralized Republicans to show up to vote for down-ballot candidates — and perhaps even cast ballots, however reluctantly, for the battered Mr. Trump.

“This is like an 18-wheeler smacking into us, and it just becomes a huge distraction at the worst possible time,” said Donna Brazile, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee and a close Clinton ally. “We don’t want it to knock us off our game. But on the second-to-last weekend of the race, we find ourselves having to tell voters, ‘Keep your focus; keep your eyes on the prize.’”

As much as Clinton advisers stressed that they were not panicking, some of them radiated anger at Mr. Comey, Mr. Weiner and even Mrs. Clinton — a reflection of 18 months of frustration that her personal decisions about her email practices and privacy were still generating unhelpful political drama. Two Clinton aides, for example, pointedly noted in interviews that it was difficult to press a counterattack without fully knowing what was in Ms. Abedin’s emails.

Some prominent Democratic women, meanwhile, were angry that a murky announcement from the F.B.I. might impede the election of the first female president of the United States.

“It worries me because it gives the Republicans something to blow up and fan folks’ anger with,” said former Representative Patricia Schroeder of Colorado, who considered a run for the Democratic nomination for president in 1988. “I was on the Judiciary Committee when I was in Congress, and I have never seen the F.B.I. handle any case the way they have handled hers.”

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