Analysis

After His October Surprise, Comey Drops a November Bombshell

The FBI director’s new letter clearing Clinton may be too little too late; if she loses Tuesday’s vote, American democracy will be stained for decades

Television cameras record FBI Director James Comey  in Boston, Nov. 18, 2014
Reuters

NEW YORK - After the October Surprise we now have the November Bombshell. FBI Director James Comey first giveth, at least to Donald Trump, and now he has taketh away, though not completely, as far as Hillary Clinton is concerned. Ten days after he informed Congress that new and potentially incriminating Clinton emails had been found, maybe, on Sunday Comey announced that no, not really, never mind, forget I said anything, move along, nothing to see here.

Comey may have taken out the air from the balloon inflated by Trump over the past ten days over Clinton’s supposedly incontrovertible criminality, but damage has been done and it’s far from certain that it can be undone in the few short hours left until the elections. That’s why, even though Democrats might have been expected to praise Comey for his courage in publishing the new findings 48 hours before the elections, despite the criticism he knew he would face, they were actually even more livid than before. If the FBI had the resources to go over the new emails found on the computer of Anthony Weiner, husband of Clinton adviser Huma Abedin - why didn’t it do so before Comey’s letter to Congress, which upended the presidential race, they asked.

If Clinton wins in the end, perhaps things can be ultimately be ironed out, possibly with Comey paying with his own head. If she loses however, a dark cloud will hang over American democracy for decades to come. Comey and the FBI will bear the responsibility of having subverted the electoral process and possibly thwarted the will of the American public.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton greets members of the audience at a rally at the Cleveland Public Auditorium in Cleveland, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016.
Andrew Harnik, AP

Of course, democracy has been damaged already. Tens of millions of Americans cast their vote in recent days under the impression created by Comey’s letter. They presumably include many Republicans who were convinced to hold their noses and vote for Trump despite their misgivings because the letter and Trump himself convinced them that Clinton is a criminal who will ultimately pay for her crimes. Coming at a crucial time in the campaign, the letter served as a basis to reconstruct the sleazy, corrupt image of both Bill and Hillary Clinton that Trump has worked so hard to create. And contrary to what Trump and some of his aides have ludicrously their followers, voters can’t change their mind and ask to vote again.

Clinton and her advisers might hope that Comey’s new letter will upset Trump to the degree that he will lose his newfound discipline and return to his old and zany ways in a way that will influence the outcome of the elections. The new letter, and what will undoubtedly be viewed as an exoneration of Clinton, will certainly be valuable for Democrats to fire up their base and get voters who haven’t cast their ballot yet to the voting booths. Possibly, though not certainly, the new letter might sway undecided voters or those who had decided to vote for one of the independent candidates to switch their vote to Clinton.

It has to be said, though, that Comey’s original letter had already enraged many Clinton supporters, who viewed it as undue intervention in the elections. Many others had started to panic at the news of the gap closing between Trump and Clinton in the national polls and his ascent in the battleground states. From that point of view, Comey’s first letter may have been the best thing that happened to Clinton: fear and rage are much more effective than indifference and complacency in getting people to vote.

The result, already noticeable before Comey’s latest shocker, is that Clinton’s precipitous fall in the polls had been arrested. She and her high-power advocates had doubled their efforts. Not only were her advocates out in full force, her own speeches, for some reason, became much more effective, seemingly more heartfelt and genuine. Her activists were fired up as never before. Hispanic voters, who have very justification to fear a Trump presidency, came to the polls in unprecedented and unexpected numbers.

Comey’s new letter will only pour more fuel on this already simmering fire. But it remains to be seen whether the letter will ultimately be viewed as the crucial closing argument for Clinton or as a futile last minute development that did not prevent her loss. Moreover, even though polls will open and voting will start in only a few hours, in this election campaign one must always take into consideration the possibility that after the November 6 surprise we’ll get the November 7 scandal that will turn everything around.