Questions about Hillary Clinton’s emails need answers – now

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton pauses while speaking at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa on Friday.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton pauses while speaking at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa on Friday. AP

Hillary Clinton almost made it through October without a surprise. But here we are, less than two weeks to Election Day and the FBI is, once again, taking “investigative steps” to determine whether a batch of emails contain classified information and are relevant to the investigation of the Democratic presidential nominee’s private server.

The revelation, which surfaced Friday in a leaked memo from FBI Director James Comey to members of Congress, is stunning in its implications for what’s already been an incredibly divisive presidential race.

Most poll watchers started the day assuming the election would be a slam dunk for Clinton – a flawed candidate, for sure, but a sound choice compared to the wholly unfit Donald Trump. By the end of the day, they were less sure. FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver’s well-regarded election forecasting website, changed its projection about Clinton winning from 85 percent earlier this week to 81 percent by Friday afternoon.

Many pertinent and worrisome questions remain unanswered. Who sent the emails? Who received them? When? And how many?

Clinton, in a news conference late Friday, said she hadn’t spoken with Comey and she had no answers to give.

“Right now, your guess is as good as mine,” she said. “And I don’t think that’s good enough.”

Comey, so far, has explained little. Voters are left in the lurch.

Traditionally, the FBI has refused to discuss its investigations. Comey has thrown that tradition to the wind. Now that he has reinserted the FBI into the presidential campaign, the agency must act quickly and publicly to provide clarity. Clinton called it “imperative” – and she’s right. This election is far too important to leave Americans guessing and Trump far too dangerous for voters to give him a second look.

The FBI closed its original investigation into the use of Clinton’s private email server in July, declining to file criminal charges, but also criticizing the former secretary of state and her aides for being “extremely careless” with classified information. On Friday, Clinton said she’s confident that whatever comes of the FBI’s current probe, it won’t change anything.

In the meantime, some details have started to trickle out. The emails in question apparently came from a computer shared by longtime Clinton aide Huma Abedin and her estranged husband, Anthony Weiner. The FBI seized the device as part of its investigation of Weiner for allegedly sexting a 15-year-old girl in North Carolina.

The former congressman is a nexus of sleaze – the six degrees of Weiner. That he turned up in an investigation related to Clinton is disconcerting; it certainly does nothing for the trust that she’s struggled to build with voters.

It’s really more indicative of the types of people who enter national politics and the seedy characters who hang onto its fringes, on both sides of the aisle. It’s why, faced with the outline of a scandal, such people will go to extraordinary lengths to flesh out a narrative on the fly, taking advantage of a news cycle that has accelerated to a breakneck pace in this presidential campaign.

It didn’t take long for Republicans to pounce. Within hours, the GOP’s narrative was that down-ballot Democratic candidates should face questions about supporting Clinton.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus tweeted as much and the National Republican Congressional Committee, seeking to elect Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones to Congress, whacked incumbent Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, by asking whether he was “Still Standing By Hillary?” The same question was applied in blast emails to Democratic congressional candidates with realistic chances of unseating Republicans.

For Trump, the timing was perfect. When The Washington Post tweeted, “Breaking: FBI to conduct new investigation of emails from Clinton’s private server” at 10:22 a.m. Friday, the Republican nominee was getting ready to speak at a campaign rally in Manchester, N.H. He got to break the news to his supporters, shouting: “This is bigger than Watergate.”

It’s not, but then Trump has an uncertain grasp of history. That said, Comey needs to make clear exactly what his agents have found. The Election Day clock is ticking down.