FBI chief dragged center stage in US election showdown

FBI-Director-James-ComeyDAYTONA BEACH: America’s top cop FBI Director James Comey found himself center stage Saturday as his renewed probe of Hillary Clinton’s emails set a bitter tone for the final ten-day stretch of the campaign.

Both Clinton and her Republican rival Donald Trump piled pressure on Comey to put his cards on the table and end speculation about the investigation before America goes to the polls on November 8.

Clinton demanded the FBI director explain in detail why he had effectively reopened an inquiry declared complete in July, branding Comey’s move “deeply troubling” so close to Election Day.

And Trump fired up his raucous supporters with a vow that “justice can at last be delivered” — despite the FBI not putting any timeline on the new inquiry.

In reality, it seems unlikely that any progress will be made in the email investigation before polling day, and few observers imagine that Clinton could face criminal charges.

But every day that she spends dealing with the fallout of her decision to use a private email server as secretary of state is a day the media is not dwelling on the scandals dogging Trump.

And while the 69-year-old Democratic candidate remains on course to be voted in as America’s first female president next week, her campaign is furious that its momentum has slowed in the final straight.

On Saturday, the latest poll of polls by tracker site RealClearPolitics put Clinton 3.9 percentage points ahead of Trump nationwide, down from a gap of 7.1 points just 10 days previously.

And an ABC/Washington Post survey gave her a 47 percent to 45 percent lead, a drastic fall from her 12-point margin in the same poll a week ago.

‘Deeply troubling’

The narrowing can’t be traced solely to Friday’s shock announcement, but when Clinton took the stage in Daytona Beach in the swing state of Florida it was obvious who her campaign is blaming.

“It’s pretty strange to put something like that out with such little information right before an election,” Clinton told the cheering crowd, echoing insinuations about Comey’s motives.

“In fact, it’s not just strange, it’s unprecedented and it is deeply troubling because voters deserve to get full and complete facts,” she added.

“So we’ve called on Director Comey to explain everything right away, put it all out on the table, right?” she declared, to rapturous cheers.

Trump took a another tack, but he too put the FBI director in a difficult position, whipping up his supporters with the suggestion that the probe could lead to Clinton’s prosecution.

Campaigning in the western state of Colorado, which has been leaning toward Clinton, Trump denounced what he called his opponent’s “criminal and illegal conduct,” prompting chants of “Lock her up!”

“This is the biggest political scandal since Watergate,” said the real estate tycoon, himself dogged by scandal over alleged sexual misconduct, including allegations from at least 12 women.

“Hillary has nobody to blame but herself,” he said.

Comey also appears to be facing criticism from within President Barack Obama’s administration.

The Washington Post reported Saturday that Justice Department officials had told him his move violated long-standing tradition not to do anything that could influence an election in its waning days.

The spotlight turned back to Clinton’s emails — and on to Comey — on Friday, when the FBI chief wrote to lawmakers to announce that his agents are investigating a newly discovered trove of emails.

According to the New York Times, these emails emerged after agents seized a laptop used by Clinton’s closest aide, Huma Abedin, and her now estranged husband, Anthony Weiner.

Weiner, a disgraced former congressman who resigned in 2011 after sending explicit online messages, is under investigation over allegations he sent sexual overtures to a 15-year-old girl.

Clinton’s campaign had been overshadowed from the start by allegations she put US secrets at risk by using a private server based in her home for all email correspondence as secretary of state.

In July, after an FBI probe, Comey criticized Clinton’s handling of sensitive information but recommended no charges be brought against her. The Justice Department decided that no laws had been broken and Clinton appeared in clear.

Trump vindicated?

Trump was outraged, using it as an argument that the White House race has been “rigged” against him by a corrupt elite.

So, on Friday, when Comey revealed that the case had been reopened — at least to discover whether the new batch of mail was “pertinent” — Trump seized on this as vindication.

Media reports citing FBI insiders suggest agents do not yet know whether the batch contains any new emails or classified information.

But, in the febrile atmosphere of the closing stages of the race, the controversy could throw Clinton off her game and allow Trump to regain some of the ground lost to his own scandals.

Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook criticized Comey, but sought to play down the impact of the revived email scandal.

“We don’t see it as changing the landscape,” he said, boasting that Clinton supporters were if anything fired up by the battle.

While Trump campaigned in Colorado and Arizona, Clinton toured Florida, a state seen as a must-win by both camps.

She was scheduled to hold a “Get Out The Vote” rally with singer and actress Jennifer Lopez.