Restart of e-mail probe a blow to Hillary Clinton's campaign as election draws near

Hillary Clinton testifies before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, on Capitol Hill, Washington, on Oct 22, 2015.
Hillary Clinton testifies before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, on Capitol Hill, Washington, on Oct 22, 2015.PHOTO: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON - The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced on Friday (Oct 28) that it would be restarting investigations into Mrs Hillary Clinton's use of a private e-mail server while secretary of state, in a move that analysts say could significantly affect the presidential race the Democratic nominee had been heavily tipped to win.

FBI director James Comey dropped the political bombshell in a letter to Congress, saying that the agency was now reviewing e-mails uncovered in an unrelated investigation that could be pertinent to Mrs Clinton's case. He had announced in July that the bureau had completed its investigation and would not be recommending criminal charges.

The stunning revelation prompted a fierce pushback from Mrs Clinton and her campaign as well as cheers from her opponent.

Mrs Clinton demanded the FBI "release all the information it has" at a press conference on Friday even as Democrats accused the Republican FBI director of playing politics so close to the election.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee released a blistering statement that described Mr Comey's actions as appalling.

 
 

Noting that the FBI director admitted the FBI does not yet know if the evidence is significant, or predict the duration of the review, she said: "It's too bad Director Comey didn't take those gaping holes into consideration when he decided to send this letter. The FBI has a history of extreme caution near Election Day so as not to influence the results. Today's break from that tradition is appalling."

While no timeline was provided by the FBI, those familiar with such investigations said that it was extremely unlikely that the review would be completed before the election.

Republican nominee Donald Trump meanwhile praised the FBI for having the "courage to right the horrible mistake that they made".

"The FBI, I think they are going to right the ship, folks. I think they are going to right the ship and they're going to save their great reputation by doing so," he said at a rally in New Hampshire.

Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus in turn said the announcement was an indication of the severity of the issue: "The FBI's decision to reopen their criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton's secret email server just 11 days before the election shows how serious this discovery must be."

Mr Comey had previously come under intense criticism from Mr Trump and other Republicans after he concluded that Mrs Clinton was not guilty of criminal wrongdoing.

Analysts say the October Surprise for Mrs Clinton takes the attention off Mr Trump's scandals and provides a real boost for the Republican's flagging chances.

Said University of North Carolina Charlotte political science professor Eric Heberlig: "The FBI story has the real potential to change the dynamics of the race. Right now the statement they put out is just so vague the Clinton campaign can't respond to it effectively and everyone is just going to assume the worst."

He added: "It changes the focus of the campaign from what's wrong with Donald Trump to what's wrong with Hillary Clinton."

Analysts note, however, that it is not yet clear if the revelations have come with enough time to for Mr Trump to catch up. Early voting has already begun in more than half of the states and millions of votes have already been cast.

The new e-mail cache uncovered by the FBI had reportedly been discovered as part of an unrelated investigation into a sex scandal involving former congressman Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of one of Mrs Clinton's top aides Huma Abedin.