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Hillary Clinton’s waltz toward the White House has just been complicated by a bombshell dropped on her path by the FBI — police announced they are examining new emails three months after they cleared her of criminal wrongdoing.
The news jolted markets that have heretofore treated a Clinton victory as a fait accompli. Stock markets, the Mexican peso, and her odds on political gambling sites all dipped slightly upon the early−afternoon news.
The political bomb arrived in a package from FBI director James Comey.
In a letter to Republicans in Congress, Comey said he had been briefed on the existence of other emails just found during an unrelated investigation, and they appeared to be pertinent to the original case. Clinton had been cleared in July of criminally mishandling classified information.
Investigators are now examining the new emails for classified information, Comey said.
"The FBI cannot assess whether or not this material may be significant," he wrote. "I cannot predict how long it will take us to complete this additional work."
Vague as it was, the news prompted celebration from Republicans.
Cheers erupted at a Donald Trump rally as he arrived on stage and told a New Hampshire crowd: "I need to open with a very critical breaking news announcement." His fans had clearly heard the news already, as they immediately began chanting, 'Lock her up!'"
He applauded the FBI for reopening Clinton’s case — other Republicans used similar language. The FBI, however, never went that far in its letter. Comey’s letter only referred to an examination of new emails.
The Associated Press reported on a surprise source for the discovery: an investigation into the sex messages of disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner. The agency said police found the emails while investigating reports of his illicit communications with a minor, the latest of his several sexting scandals.
Weiner is the estranged husband of senior Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
Democrats implored the FBI to release more information. They called the vaguely worded, sensitively timed letter deeply unfair, given that it was released without context or explanation less than two weeks before an election.
"We have no idea what those emails are and the director himself notes they may not even be significant,’’ said a statement from Clinton campaign chair John Podesta.
"It is extraordinary that we would see something like this just 11 days out from a presidential election. The director owes it to the American people to immediately provide the full details of what he is now examining. We are confident this will not produce any conclusions different from the one the FBI reached in July."
Clinton did not mention the issue in a rally Friday, as she entered the campaign’s penultimate weekend leading almost every major swing state poll.
To Canadians, the phenomenon might smack of deja vu.
In the midst of a federal election a decade ago, the national police force sent a letter to the opposition confirming a criminal investigation into the governing party. In that case, it was the RCMP investigating the Martin Liberals for insider trading.
The letter from Giuliano Zaccardelli proved devastating.
The scandal−plagued Liberals had been leading in the polls, despite being battered by controversies over corruption in federal advertising and insider−trading allegations related to a tax−policy announcement. Within days, they lost about five percentage points, fell into second place, never recovered, and spent 10 years in opposition.
A former aide to Paul Martin said some of his friends Friday immediately noted the similarities. But he said he had another reaction.
Former Martin communications director Scott Reid predicted there won’t be the same fallout — for a variety of reasons. They include the state of the race, the lack of any specific accusation against Clinton, and his own view that Comey is less motivated by partisan malice.
"I think the circumstances are different," Reid said. "It’s closer to election day (now), she’s well in command of the campaign, this is a much less pointed allegation. So I don’t see them as exact analogues.
"And most importantly there’s no reason to suspect the head of the FBI is attempting to influence the campaign in a way that would harm Hillary Clinton."
After the 2006 election, Zaccardelli refused to participate in a review by the RCMP watchdog body, which found that he’d insisted upon adding then−finance minister Ralph Goodale’s name to the letter. Nobody from the governing party was ever charged in the investigation, related to a spike in stock purchases on the eve of the Liberal government announcing a share−boosting tax policy.
One federal employee pleaded guilty to breach of trust, and was fined $14,000.