Is the FBI email investigation Clinton’s ‘October surprise’?

Anthony Weiner inquiry throws up a bombshell in US election’s closing straight

Can we possibly be surprised by any new revelation in this bizarre US presidential election? Yes we can.

The Friday afternoon bombshell that the FBI was looking at newly discovered emails in connection with Hillary Clinton's use of personal email server as US secretary of state – and that the new material arose in a separate investigation into "sexting" former congressman Anthony Weiner – shook the political landscape.

It left many wondering whether this was the “October surprise” people were expecting.

Clinton's plane was mid-flight to a get-out-the-vote rally in Iowa when news of FBI director James Comey's letter to Republican congressmen broke, telling them that the bureau had found emails that "appear to be pertinent" to the closed investigation into whether she mishandled classified information by email.

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The fact that he was unable to say whether the material was significant or how long the investigation would take only magnified the repercussions of the news that the FBI was in effect reopening a year-long investigation concluded in July with less than two weeks before Election Day.

Elated

Republican presidential candidate

Donald Trump

, clearly relishing the disclosure, declared the news in his characteristic hyperbole as “bigger than Watergate” in front of supporters in

New Hampshire

.

He appeared elated, vindicated over his months-long drumbeat of criticism of the FBI’s July conclusions.

Other Republicans piled on. House of Representatives speaker Paul Ryan said Mrs Clinton has "nobody but herself to blame" by "carelessly mishandling highly classified information."

That the wound appears inflicted by someone close to her inner circle is all the more damaging for Mrs Clinton coming from Weiner, the disgraced former New York congressman and estranged husband of her closest aide Huma Abedin.

Abedin has herself been the focus of Republican congressional attention because of the dual role she held as an adviser to Mrs Clinton at the State Department while working privately for Teneo, the New York strategic consultancy company cofounded by Irish public relations executive Declan Kelly and long-time Bill Clinton aide, Doug Band.

She announced her separation from her husband last month after the Daily Mail caught Weiner in another "sexting" episode. Police and the FBI launched an investigation into the tabloid's report that the 52-year-old former politician sent sexually explicit texts to a 15-year-old girl in North Carolina.

An electronic device seized during the Weiner investigation has, according to the New York Times, provided the FBI with these new emails, leading Clinton email investigators to "determine whether they contain classified information, as well as to assess their importance to our investigation," said Comey.

‘Sexting’

The Clinton campaign already had to deal with the embarrassment that was the car-crash fly-on-the-wall documentary into Weiner’s self-combusted New York mayoral campaign.

Now it appears Weiner’s “sexting” has thrown up a much more serious problem as the presidential race enters the closing straight.

John Podesta, the Clinton campaign chairman dealing with the fallout from his own (Russian-hacked) email problems, reacted furiously to the FBI's end-of-week letter to Congress.

“It is extraordinary that we would see something like this just 11 days out from a presidential election,” he said, confident that the FBI would not change its July conclusion that Clinton’s mishandling of classified government information on her personal email was “extremely careless” but not criminal.

That this should hang over a presidential candidate so close to an election is just that: extraordinary.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent