ANALYSIS: Confluence of Scandals Upends Final Dash for White House

PHOTO:FBI Director James Comey before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing, July 7, 2016.Michael Reynolds/EPA
FBI Director James Comey before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing, July 7, 2016.

Suddenly, they’ve all come together – the tabloid tales and the FBI investigation, decades of secrecy and suspicions, the core arguments against Hillary Clinton’s candidacy for president – in one big story that’s set to dominate the next 10 days.

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A bizarre bombshell of a statement by FBI Director James Comey, suggesting that the review of Clinton’s email practices is alive again, appears likely to hijack the balance of the campaign in a way that plays to Donald Trump’s strengths.

It may not make a difference in an election where so many voters are so set in their likes and dislikes. But the news drops at the most delicate of moments for a campaign that remains more fluid than Democrats can be comfortable with.

Perhaps most powerfully, it feeds the central and most effective argument that Trump has utilized in navigating his still-narrow path to the White House.

“It might not be as rigged as I thought, right?” Donald Trump said Friday in reacting to the news.

It’s almost trite to tally up or rank October surprises. In terms of timing, though, it’s hard to beat this: Polls are tightening daily, in a race where more than 18 million Americans have already cast their votes, with millions more casting votes daily.

Comey’s letter raises far more questions than it answers. It provoked fierce pushback from Clinton and her campaign, with demands for details about what evidence has and has not been uncovered.

Suddenly, an agency that was supposed to be above politics has gone from being the target of Republicans to being the target of Democrats.

“It is incumbent upon the FBI to tell us what they’re talking about,” Clinton said in a brief evening news conference.

“The director owes it to the American people to immediately provide the full details of what he is now examining,” Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta said in a statement.

That the statement came from Podesta holds its own ironies. His hacked emails have been the subject of daily WikiLeaks-dictated disclosures that have embarrassed the campaign, providing a storyline that, for many voters, is mixed up with the one about Clinton’s unusual email arrangement.

Then, add a new layer of strange: The FBI only has new evidence to review because of a wholly unrelated probe of Anthony Weiner, the now-estranged husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin. (Asked about that Friday night, Clinton said the connection was one of the “rumors” but did not accept that as a fact.)

The years-long scandal involving Weiner was always a step removed from Clinton herself. The only major political figure to link Clinton’s ability to govern to those stories? Donald Trump.

Trump now has a major news event that feeds his arguments. He has been relentless in attacking Clinton for insider connections, secrecy, and alleged criminality, not to mention the tabloid side of this campaign.

This election has swayed along with news cycles, in inverse proportion to scrutiny being applied at any given moment. Clinton has risen in polls when the focus has been on Trump, while Trump has done better.

Clinton’s edge has been substantial but not insurmountable. This story could effectively wipe out months’ worth of ground-organizing, with its potential to solidify Trump’s base, and soften the motivation of potential Clinton voters.

Clinton has weathered significant storms. But the issue of her emails has been a cloud since virtually the start of the campaign. The skies have now opened up.