Hillary Clinton’s allies dramatically escalated attacks on FBI Director James Comey in a bid to stem political damage from his disclosure the agency is reviewing a new batch of files that may be related to an investigation of the former secretary of state’s e-mail practices.
Harry Reid, the Senate’s top Democrat, delivered an unusual rebuke to the FBI chief in a letter Sunday that said Comey may have broken the law by revealing the review so close to the election, and suggesting the agency is sitting on potentially damaging information about Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
Reid’s scorching letter — typical of the combative Nevadan’s style — was one of the most confrontational messages being delivered by Clinton supporters, who took to talk shows, newspaper opinion pages and social media to question the propriety of Comey’s disclosure.
Late Sunday, one Democratic member of the House Judiciary Committee, Steve Cohen of Tennessee, called for Comey’s resignation. Judiciary is among congressional committees that oversee the FBI, and Cohen is the top Democrat on a subcommittee with jurisdiction over matters involving ethics in government.
The new probe led to a weekend of scrambling by both Clinton and Trump and put the U.S. presidential race in uncharted territory. The two campaigns responded, for now, by falling back on the familiar. After hitting back at Comey on Friday and Saturday, Clinton moved on by Sunday to reiterating her campaign’s themes, leaving the attacks on the FBI director to her proxies. Trump reinvigorated his assault on Clinton’s trustworthiness and found a new cue for his crowds to chant “Lock her up” as he ramped up his pace of campaigning.
With millions of Americans already casting ballots for an election that concludes eight days from now, and polls showing the race had already been tightening, Clinton looked to the FBI review as a way to rally her Democratic base while Trump sought to sway undecided voters and Republicans who’ve been reluctant to back him.
Clinton didn’t mention the investigation directly while campaigning in the battleground state of Florida on Sunday. Rather, she continued her attack on Trump being unfit and unqualified to be president, combined with a push for supporters to vote early. Still, in a veiled reference to events of recent days, she told her audience not to let “all the noise in the political environment’’ distract from the important issues that will be decided on election day.
“No matter what is thrown our way, we are not going to back down, we are not going to give up, we’re going to reject anyone who tries to drag us backwards,’’ Clinton said in remarks at New Mount Olive Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale.
For Trump, Comey’s revelation served as a reset for a campaign that had been beset by the candidate’s own stumbles, his lewd comments from 2005 that were captured on videotape and came to light this month, and falling poll numbers.
A Trump adviser, who discussed strategy on condition of anonymity, said the Republican will try to let the e-mail story consume Clinton in the final days of the campaign and avoid statements or gaffes that will make him the center of any story. His aides, who are getting regular updates on the FBI probe from allies on Capitol Hill, are urging Trump to simply “be presidential” as they look to capitalize on an unexpected chance to get a second look from independent and undecided voters.
“Haven’t we had enough drama with the Clintons?” Trump asked the crowd at a rally in Phoenix on Saturday.
The candidates are stuffing their schedules in battleground states between now and Nov. 8. Trump is increasing the number of rallies he holds to four or five a day. Clinton is hitting the major swing states she needs to block Trump, including Ohio and Florida, and is trying to expand her campaign into Arizona, which has been a Republican stronghold in presidential elections. Arizona voters last opted for a Democrat in 1996, Clinton’s husband, Bill.
But both of their closing campaign messages were overshadowed, at least temporarily, by Comey’s revelation of the e-mail review and the questions about it being raised by members of both parties in Washington.
Comey briefed the top Republican and Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee Saturday and was pressed to clarify a number of questions, including whether the bureau is certain the newly discovered e-mails contained classified information. To most of the questions, “he did not give us any response in terms of what more he could say,” Bob Goodlatte, the Virginia Republican who chairs the committee, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
Goodlatte said Comey told him agents don’t know if there’s any classified information contained in the e-mails. Comey’s brief letter to congressional committee heads on Friday said only that the files “appear to be pertinent” to its investigation.
The information void was filled during the weekend by anonymous leaks regarding the e-mails found on a computer belonging to Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of close Clinton aide Huma Abedin, and which prompted the FBI to renew its probe.
The FBI on Sunday obtained a new warrant to review the material on Weiner’s computer, which will allow it to determine if any e-mails belonging to Abedin were unknown to the team investigating Clinton and whether they contain classified information, according to a person familiar with the matter.
As that process played out, Clinton’s allies piled on Comey.
In his letter, Reid accused Comey of a “disturbing double standard’’ that appears to be “a clear intent to aid one political party over another.”
“My office has determined that these actions may violate the Hatch Act,” Reid wrote, referring to the statute that bars government officials from using their position to influence an election.
“If Director Comey cares about the Bureau and the rule of law, as I have felt he has in the past, I’m sure upon reflection of this action he will submit his letter of resignation for the nation’s good,” Cohen said in his letter.
Separately, Richard Painter, who was chief White House ethics lawyer in the Bush administration from 2005 to 2007 and is now supporting Clinton, wrote in the New York Times on Sunday that he’d filed a complaint against the FBI for a possible violation of the Hatch Act.
Even Clinton’s campaign lawyer, Marc Elias, took to Twitter to question the FBI director’s motives. “Isn’t the most likely explanation for Comey’s letter that DOJ/FBI can’t obtain a warrant because there isn’t probable cause?” Elias posted, and said Comey went public to “head off” any suggestion by Republicans he wasn’t being “aggressive” about Clinton. Ironically, the National Review, a leading conservative news magazine, ran a cover story in its Oct. 24 issue assailing “James Comey’s Dereliction” in not having moved to prosecute Clinton in its earlier investigation.
The Clinton campaign also highlighted an open letter signed by almost 100 former federal prosecutors and high-ranking Justice Department officials from both parties that questioned Comey’s decision.
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“We cannot recall a prior instance where a senior Justice Department official — Republican or Democrat — has, on the eve of a major election, issued a public statement where the mere disclosure of information may impact the election’s outcome, yet the official acknowledges the information to be examined may not be significant or new,” the letter said. “Director Comey’s letter is inconsistent with prevailing Department policy, and it breaks with longstanding practices followed by officials of both parties during past elections.”
The Justice Department had urged Comey to abide by department policy not to do anything significant with a major investigation so close to an election if by doing so it could swing the results, according to a U.S. official familiar with the matter.