Monday, October 31, 2016

When is a bombshell not a bombshell? and the State of the Election and Nation Republished with permission of the Author Neil Munshi and the FT ( Financial Times of London)

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When FBI director James Comey sent a letter to congress on Friday, he upended the 2016 race.

Or did he?

The letter initially seemed like it might be the October surprise that delivered the election to Donald Trump by renewing focus on Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server. In the event, it was not quite the smoking gun that Republicans have longed for - but its vagueness allowed for rampant speculation among Republicans, and a series of leaks from the FBI and justice department that, as Jeffrey Toobin writes, allowed "senior government officials" to "apply their own gloss" to the story.

Here is what we know about the case. Among the things the flood of leaks since has revealed: that the justice department told Comey the letter violated protocol meant to avoid influencing elections, the emails may not have been sent or received by Clinton, the FBI may not yet even actually have access to the emails, and that they were discovered on a laptop shared by disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner and his estranged wife, Clinton’s top aide Huma Abedin.

(Re: that flood of leaks. As my colleague Jake Grovum put it on Twitter: "The fact that Clinton email stuff (started w/ concern about handling govt secrets) has turned into the FBI leaking like a sieve is something.")

Here are a couple more leaks, for good measure: today both CNBC and Huffington Post reported that Comey argued privately "that it was too close to Election Day for the US government to name Russia as meddling in the US election and ultimately ensured that the FBI's name was not on the document that the US government put out".

Trump has long praised Vladimir Putin, has business ties to Russia and has refused to condemn or even acknowledge that Moscow has had a hand in hacking American officials. On Monday evening, Slate published an investigation that alleges that the Trump Organization had a special server to communicate with Russia's Alfa Bank, while NBC reported that the FBI was conducting an inquiry into Trump's ex-campaign manager Paul Manafort's foreign business connections.

That left Democrats wondering why Comey, a Republican, felt that 11 days out from the election wasn't too close to it to announce the discovery of emails that may not belong to Clinton and that the FBI has not reviewed.

The bipartisan list condemning Comey's decision is long and growing: former Obama administration attorney-general (and Comey boss) Eric Holder called it a "serious mistake", Republican former attorney-general Alberto Gonzales called it an "error in judgement" while his successor Michael Mukasey called it an "unworthy choice", and Libertarian vice presidential candidate Bill Weld called it "disgraceful". Nearly 100 former prosecutors and DoJ officials signed an open letter criticising Comey.

Mukasey was among those who thought Clinton should have been indicted for her use of the server. He was joined by other surprising critics, including Jim Jordan, the de facto leader of the anti-establishment group in the House - and no Clinton fan - who said it was "not the right thing to do". The Washington Post has a roundup of at least 10 other Republicans who have slammed Comey's move.

Regardless of views on Comey's conduct, the proverbial cat is out of the bag - and the question now is what type of impact it could have on the election.

Based on the (very early) polling the answer seems to be: not much (so far).

The NBC/SurveyMonkey weekly tracking poll released this evening found Clinton with a 47-41 lead over Trump during a survey conducted during the two days after Comey's letter - the same lead she held in data from the five days prior. The Politico/Morning Conult poll conducted entirely after the letter's release gave Clinton a 3-point lead in a 4-way race - the same as its poll conducted before the disclosure. ABC/WaPo and YouGov, similarly, reported little effect. Nate Cohn writes in the New York Times that polls are likely to swing - but the fundamentals of the race probably won't change.

That makes sense. Clinton's email issue has been largely baked in for months: people who think it's a problem don't support her already, and the latest flareup is unlikely to convince anyone who has decided to vote for her to suddenly swing to Trump.

Still, it's clear the race has been tightening recently, as Republicans who abandoned Trump in the wake of the release of the tape in which he brags about sexually assaulting women come back home. And the renewed focus on Clinton's emails could depress Democratic turnout, hurting both Clinton and down-ballot Democrats.

That may be why the Clinton campaign is renewing focus on what she says is the danger Trump poses - including with an ad that references the iconic 1964 "Daisy" commercial in order to question his ability to handle nuclear weapons. They are also sending top-tier surrogates like Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, the Obamas and running mate Tim Kaine out to energise the base in the final week.

Kaine will hold a rally in Arizona entirely in Spanish as the campaign makes a push to flip reliably red Arizona on the strength of the state's growing Latino population, which overwhelmingly supports Clinton. With black voter turnout down from 2012, Clinton will need Hispanics to turn out in droves. So far, they seem to be outperforming last cycle's numbers - but it remains to be seen whether those numbers will hold.

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