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Days before US election, FBI clears Hillary Clinton in email server case again

Clinton herself has not commented on the new development till the writing of this report, but campaign spokesman Brian Fallon welcomed in a post on Twitter: “We were always confident nothing would cause the July decision to be revisited. Now Director Comey has confirmed it.”

us presidential election Updated: Nov 07, 2016 09:06 IST
Yashwant Raj
US Presidential Election
US Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton leaves the Cedar Park Cafe in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Sunday.(Reuters)

In a move both welcomed and slammed as too late by some critics, the FBI told US congress Sunday it had found nothing new on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server to change its earlier conclusion to not recommend charges against her.

“Based on our review, we have not changed our conclusion that we expressed in July with respect to Secretary Clinton,” FBI director James Comey wrote to congressional leaders, effectively ending a probe that has dogged Clinton’s presidential campaign since the beginning.

Comey said “no reasonable prosecutor” would recommend Clinton face criminal charges for using a private email system while at the state department.

Clinton had not commented on the development till the writing of this report but campaign spokesperson Brian Fallon welcomed it in a Twitter post: “We were always confident nothing would cause the July decision to be revisited. Now Director Comey has confirmed it.”

But surrogates and pundits sympathetic to the Clinton campaign grumbled that the announcement came too late to undo the damage over the nine days since Comey’s first letter, which was used by Republican nominee Donald Trump and his allies to go on the offensive and catch up with Clinton in polls.

Trump, campaigning in Michigan, challenged the FBI’s ability to review the newly discovered emails so quickly and argued that Clinton was being protected by a “rigged system”.

“Hillary Clinton is guilty. She knows it, the FBI knows it, the people know it,” Trump declared. “Now it’s up to the American people to deliver justice at the ballot box on November 8.”

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump points to the audience at a campaign rally in Sterling Heights, Michigan. (AP Photo)

Read more| Hillary and Trump scramble to win hearts in battleground states

Comey had closed in July the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state, saying while she had been “extremely careless”, the agency had not found any evidence to recommend her prosecution.

But in a stunning development nine days ago, Comey wrote to congress that the agency had found new evidence that could be “pertinent” to that investigation — emails on a laptop seized from Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin, who was being investigated for texting explicit pictures of himself to a minor girl.

While Comey gave no details of the review on Sunday, multiple US news media outlets reported that nearly all the emails on the laptop were either duplicates already investigated by the agency or purely personal.

That being the case, many critics of the FBI director asked why was he in such a hurry to announce them even before ascertaining how serious they were?

Dianne Feinstein, a senior Democratic senator, said in a statement that the new letter made Comey’s earlier action “even more troubling … There is no doubt it created a false impression about the nature of the agency’s enquiry”. She went on to seek measures to “prevent similar actions that could influence future elections”.

Read | Leaked emails show Hillary Clinton asked about Amitabh Bachchan 

As a shell-shocked Clinton campaign had tried to deal with the earlier letter that came just 11 days before elections — cautiously at first and then more aggressively attacking Comey for being irresponsible, even President Barack Obama weighed in — her poll numbers began tanking.

In RealClearPolitics average of polls, Clinton’s lead over Trump dropped from nearly six points before Comey’s first letter to under two, and in FiveThirtyEight’s forecast of chances she was down from 81% to 65%.

Worse, and something that could not be immediately measured, was the impact that the first letter may have had on people who voted early, especially in critical battleground states such as Florida, North Carolina, Colorado and Nevada. More than 37 million Americans of the 146 million registered voters had cast their votes till Saturday. As many as 218 million Americans are eligible to vote.

(With inputs from agencies)

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