Saturday, October 29, 2016

For Democrats, New Focus on Clinton Emails Is 'Like an 18-Wheeler Smacking Into Us'

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Party leaders and Hillary Clinton advisers fear that new attention on the scandal could turn ...
Hillary Clinton in Des Moines on Friday. Her advisers said they were not changing her strategy or schedule because of the emails. CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times
Leading Democrats and advisers to Hillary Clinton expressed deep concern on Saturday that the renewed attention and unanswered questions about emails relating to Mrs. Clinton would turn some voters against her and hurt party candidates in competitive House and Senate races.
Mrs. Clinton’s advisers said they were not changing any political strategy, television advertising or campaign travel plans to try to contain the potential damage of the new F.B.I. inquiry into emails that belonged to Mrs. Clinton’s top aide, Huma Abedin. The emails were discovered on the computer of her estranged husband, Anthony D. Weiner, during a separate investigation into allegations that he had exchanged sexually explicit text messages with a teenager.
Mrs. Clinton made no rash moves overnight or on Saturday, advisers said, making clear that she wanted the campaign to operate normally while putting pressure on the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to provide more details about the inquiry to dispel any possibility that her candidacy was under legal threat.
In conference calls, email chains and overnight text messages, Clinton aides provided talking points for allies to convey a coordinated message that the campaign was confident that the F.B.I. would find nothing to hurt Mrs. Clinton in the new inquiry. According to several party officials, donors and campaign surrogates appearing on television, the greater concern is that an election that seemed like Mrs. Clinton’s to lose will now be thrown into doubt, depressing some of her supporters while rallying Republicans around down-ballot candidates and even their battered presidential nominee, Donald J. 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. “The campaign is trying to cut through the noise as best it can. 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.’”
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In an 8 a.m. Saturday conference call, senior aides, having read the initial news coverage of the matter, concluded that their best strategy would be to go on the offensive against the F.B.I. director’s conduct, one participant said.

Graphic: What We Know About the Investigation Into Hillary Clinton’s Private Email Server

Hours later, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, and her campaign manager, Robby Mook, criticized Mr. Comey for putting out incomplete information and even innuendo about Ms. Abedin’s email and breaking with Justice Department protocol on avoiding public disclosure of details of ongoing investigations.
“By providing selective information, he has allowed partisans to distort and exaggerate to inflict maximum political damage,” Mr. Podesta said during a campaign conference call with reporters shortly after noon. “Comey has not been forthcoming with the facts,” he added, describing the director’s letter to Congress on Friday as “long on innuendo” and calling on Mr. Comey to release more details about the inquiry.
“There’s no evidence of wrongdoing, no charge of wrongdoing,” Mr. Podesta said. “Even Director Comey said this may not be significant. If that’s all true, it’s hard to see how this amounts to anything.”
Mr. Comey has not publicly commented on the investigation, other than the letter he sent to members of Congress telling them 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.”
Mr. Podesta, when asked if Ms. Abedin had shared information with the campaign about what might be in the newly discovered emails, said she had previously turned over all relevant email relating to Mrs. Clinton as part of the F.B.I.’s earlier investigation of the former secretary of state’s handling of classified email material.
Mr. Podesta said there was “absolutely nothing that she’s done that calls into question anything.”
“We of course stand by her,” he added, in response to a question about whether Ms. Abedin would step down from the campaign.
Mr. Mook said that campaign advisers and volunteers were “upset and concerned” while also feeling a fresh urgency and intensity to fight on behalf of Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy.
“This has only increased the momentum we’re feeling among our activists on the ground,” Mr. Mook said.
In a conference call with campaign surrogates on Friday night, a rare gathering at the start of a weekend, Clinton advisers asked them to push a coordinated message in news media interviews and with voters: that the F.B.I. investigation had not been reopened; that none of the new emails had emerged from Mrs. Clinton; that the F.B.I. had to release more details about its inquiry; and that they were concerned that Mr. Comey had taken this action.
Mrs. Clinton’s advisers said she was still planning to campaign as scheduled in Florida on Saturday and Sunday, in Ohio on Monday, in Florida on Tuesday and in the Republican-leaning state of Arizona on Wednesday. Clinton aides said that by sticking to the Arizona plan, Mrs. Clinton was projecting confidence that she had not been knocked off her stride, and that the campaign was not reshuffling its plans because of the 11th-hour surprise from Mr. Comey.
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 herself — a reflection of 18 months of frustration that her personal decisions about her email practices and privacy were still generating unhelpful political drama at this stage of the race.
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On the Trail: Week of Oct. 23

On the Trail: Week of Oct. 23

CreditStephen Crowley/The New York Times
Some prominent Democratic women, meanwhile, were angry that a murky announcement from the F.B.I. might impede the possible election of the first female president of the United States. They said they were angry about a potential double standard hitting a female nominee, since the F.B.I. could well be investigating other candidates and other political issues, and worried that Republicans will use this email inquiry to stoke mistrust around Mrs. Clinton.
“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.”
Madeleine Kunin, who was the first female governor of Vermont, said she hoped the Clinton campaign would “stay the course” and not allow the F.B.I. to rattle them.
“I think most voters have already made up their minds,” she said. “This news does not absolve Trump of his well-documented disgusting references about women. The women’s vote will continue to grow for Hillary.”
Several Republican pollsters and strategists said the F.B.I. inquiry was more likely to help the party’s candidates for the House and Senate than to transform the political fortunes of Mr. Trump.
“To the extent this affects relative enthusiasm among Republicans and Democrats, it helps down-ballot Republicans,” said Whit Ayres, a pollster advising one such candidate seeking re-election, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. Referring to Mrs. Clinton’s lead over Mr. Trump in recent polls, he added, “The margin at the top of the ticket is large enough so that it probably takes an indictment, rather than an investigation, to move those numbers sufficiently.”
John Sasso, who was a senior adviser on the Democratic presidential campaigns of John Kerry in 2004 and Michael S. Dukakis in 1988, was skeptical that Mr. Trump had the political skills to capitalize on the F.B.I. inquiry.
“Fortunately, Trump has spewed out so much innuendo and conspiracy nonsense that he has lost all ability to convince persuadable voters and change the structure of the race,” he said.
But with control of the Senate on a knife’s edge and Democrats wielding Mr. Trump’s unpopularity like a weapon to make gains in the House, Republicans were exultant to at least get off the defensive.
While few Republicans were willing to argue that Mr. Comey’s letter could revive Mr. Trump, they said that the new revelations dovetailed with a message they were already prosecuting: that Democratic candidates would only enable Mrs. Clinton’s instinct for secrecy and not hold her accountable.
“It boosts the check-and-balance argument, because it is a reminder of all of the things voters hate about Clinton,” said Rob Simms, the executive director of the House Republican campaign arm.
Already, a number of congressional candidates and outside groups have been airing ads portraying Democratic candidates as rubber stamps for Mrs. Clinton.
Most Republicans will use their remaining advertisements to make their own final appeals, strategists said, assuming that the news media coverage of the F.B.I.’s actions will fill the airwaves and social media feeds.
“It’s impossible to make a closing argument with voters when the only thing people are talking about is whether Clinton is under federal investigation,” said Josh Holmes, a Republican strategist working on the Senate campaigns.
In Colorado, voters in the heavily Democratic Highlands neighborhood of Denver said the news had not changed their decision.
“Oh God no,” said Kirsten Stoltz, 44, who dropped off her ballot with two volunteers at an early voting site on Friday.
As someone whose family comes from the Colorado farming city of Yuma — the hometown of Cory Gardner, the Republican senator who unseated a Democrat in 2014 — Ms. Stoltz said she knew well that Colorado can swing dramatically in elections.
“It’s like an October sneak,” she said. “It seems like it’s just par for the course. More and more people are voting early and you know, I’m going to speak optimistically and to say it’s not going to affect Hillary.”
Mostly, people said they just wanted the draining election to be done, and threw up their hands at yet another made-for-television twist.
“This has been such a disaster that I’m over it,” said Jenny MacLeod, 46, who is supporting Mrs. Clinton. “I knew there would be something like this.”
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