Comfort turns to suspense for Clinton

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHarris lists out 'racist' actions by Trump in '60 minutes' interview: 'It all speaks for itself' Trump has list of top intelligence officials he'll fire if he wins reelection: report Clinton says most Republicans want to see Trump gone but can't say it publicly: report MORE is making the closing argument of her presidential campaign and last-minute decisions on which states to send surrogates and resources — all while launching a public relations counter-attack on FBI Director James Comey.

Aside from fierce surrogate attacks on Comey, there’s little sign the Clinton campaign is changing its strategy since the FBI’s shocking news that it is looking at new emails related to its investigation of whether the former secretary of State improperly handled classified material.


Rather than battening down the hatches in more traditional battleground states, Clinton this week will take her campaign to Arizona, a red state that is a luxury for her in the race to 270 electoral votes.

It is one of scores of critical decisions the campaign faces as polls show a tightening race one week before Election Day.

It’s an incredible end to an unpredictable campaign that has added a layer of deep suspense to a race that Democrats were feeling much more comfortable with just days ago.

With the clock running out and the media’s attention on the FBI decision, Clinton has to thread the needle to make her final sale — even as smoke from the scandal looms.

Each day since news of the story broke on Friday, she has had to stray from her final pitch. Republican nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpFox News president, top anchors advised to quarantine after coronavirus exposure: report Six notable moments from Trump and Biden's '60 Minutes' interviews Biden on attacks on mental fitness: Trump thought '9/11 attack was 7/11 attack' MORE, meanwhile, has seized on the issue as his closing message — which is focused on convincing voters they should vote for change on Nov. 8.

The Clinton campaign is advising surrogates to hit back hard at the FBI.

According to campaign talking points obtained by The Hill, supporters are being told to question Comey’s competency by arguing that he “hadn’t even reviewed the material before he started this whole confounding situation.”

They’ll allege an “abuse of protocol,” noting that Comey moved forward against the wishes of the Justice Department and that anonymous sources within the FBI leaked embarrassing details about the investigation to the press.

Democrats will point to the cascading criticism from law enforcement experts, like former Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderAlarm grows over Trump team's efforts to monitor polls The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden on Trump: 'He'll leave' l GOP laywers brush off Trump's election remarks l Obama's endorsements Obama endorses Warnock in crowded Georgia Senate race MORE, who have said Comey’s actions break with decades of precedent in which the Justice Department goes out of its way not to influence the election.

And they’ll question why the FBI hasn’t released any details about its investigation into cyberattacks, believed to be carried out by Russia, against Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and the Democratic National Committee.

Following Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDemocratic Senate emerges as possible hurdle for progressives  Harry Reid: Biden should give GOP three weeks to see if they will work with him Democrats to boycott committee vote on Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court nomination MORE’s (D-Nev.) lead, the Clinton campaign will allege that the email hacks had “possible connections to the Trump campaign.”

Clinton herself is not attacking the FBI head-on, though she is raising questions about it to her supporters.

“I'm sure a lot of you may be asking what this new email story is about, and why in the world the FBI would decide to jump into an election with no evidence of wrongdoing with just days to go," Clinton said at a rally at Kent State University in Ohio on Monday. “That's a good question.”

After signaling that she is fine with the FBI looking into the emails even while insisting they will find no case, she returned to her main argument: that Trump is unfit for the White House.

Longtime Clinton advisers and surrogates say that’s what she needs to do.

“I believe, absent legitimately new information, since she has addressed the FBI matter, she does not need to keep doing so,” one longtime Clinton adviser said. “She can and should stay on message for her final closing arguments.”

Some Democrats are questioning whether its prudent for the Clinton campaign to prosecute a public relations war against the FBI in the final days before the election.

“It’s of course better the campaign be about Clinton versus Trump rather than Clinton versus Comey,” said Democratic strategist Mark Alderman. “The way this election has gone, whoever is in the news is losing. You have to get out of the news, and fighting with Comey keeps her in the news.”

Still, Democrats say that the story was big enough that it required a thunderous initial response, particularly to influence the discourse at the epicenter of the controversy in Washington.

The message on the air and on the ground in the battleground states is still about Trump, Democrats say. And with the initial blitz behind them — including a short press conference on Friday — Democrats believe Clinton is clear to return her focus to the GOP nominee for the final stretch.

“I don't think the Clinton campaign intends to get into a protracted fight with the FBI one week before the election,” said Democratic strategist Tharon Johnson. “The campaign has simply taken the last few days to clarify the record. ... I have no doubt that the Clinton campaign will be refocusing on Trump immediately.”

While Clinton and her allies have called for more transparency and further details from the FBI, they’ve been aided in the short term by the murkiness and lack of new details.

Surrogates will argue that “there is not much more to say” and will vent their frustration over “leaks and innuendo” until new details emerge, campaign talking points reveal.

Democrats expressed confidence on Monday that Clinton will still win the White House, albeit by a slimmer margin than what she was headed for.

“Surprises like this that occur late in the game tend to have a high discount rate by voters because they are suspicious of the politics behind such revelations,” said Chris LeHane, a veteran presidential campaign aide who served as a senior adviser to the super PAC Ready for Hillary.