(CNN) — FBI Director James Comey told lawmakers Sunday the agency hasn’t changed its opinion that Hillary Clinton should not face criminal charges after a review of new emails.
Comey had dropped a bombshell 11 days from the election when he informed Congress that the FBI had discovered emails in its separate investigation of Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin, that could be connected to its investigation of whether Clinton mishandled classified information by using a private email server.
The news could help Clinton put to rest a controversy that has dogged her in the 2016 race’s closing days, helping Donald Trump narrow a polling gap nationally and in key battleground states.
“Based on our review, we have not changed our conclusions that we expressed in July,” Comey said in the letter to top Republicans on the House Oversight Committee.
Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon said her campaign is validated in its belief that nothing would change.
“We were always confident nothing would cause the July decision to be revisited. Now Director Comey has confirmed it,” tweeted Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon.
Comey’s last-minute announcement gives Clinton an opportunity for an I-told-you-so moment — but it’s unlikely to undo the political damage of his initial announcement.
“We has seen Director Comey’s latest letter to the Hill. We are glad to see that he has found, as we were confident that he would, that he had confirmed the conclusions he reached in July and we are glad that this mater is resolved,” said Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton’s communications director, speaking with reporters after the news broke.
Trump and his allies have seized on that announcement, using it claim Clinton is likely to face criminal charges.
“If she were to win, it would create an unprecedented constitutional crisis,” Trump claimed Saturday night in Reno, Nevada. “In that situation we could very well have a sitting president under felony indictment and ultimately a criminal trial. It would grind government to a halt.”
The political benefit for Trump has been that Republicans who’d been skeptical of their party’s nominee have largely followed vice presidential nominee Mike Pence’s calls to “come home” to the party — finding Trump less objectionable than Clinton.
This close to Election Day, it’s impossible to know before results are tallied what impact Comey’s actions — first raising a vaguely worded red flag 11 days out, and then lowering it two days from the election — will have on the contest.
It’s not just Trump’s campaign that seized on Comey’s actions. Down-ballot Republicans — particularly Senate candidates who had been forced to answer for Trump’s bombastic statements for months — used the moment to change the topic, shifting to the more comfortable ground of attacking Clinton.
The last-minute Sunday move from Comey could also provide new fuel for Trump’s claims of a “rigged” system — allowing him to cast the FBI director’s intervention in the presidential election in a new light.
Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday that Comey’s initial letter was “puzzling and troubling” — pointing to news reports about politics at play within the FBI.
“But those are questions for later. We have to focus on making the case as to why Hillary will be the best president between now and when the polls close on Tuesday, November 8,” Kaine said.