KENT, Ohio — Eight days from the election, Hillary Clinton’s closing argument now includes a brief aside: “We are about to enter the final week of this election… But let me start with this: I am sure a lot of you may be asking what this new email story is about…”
Kicking off the first of two rallies here in Ohio, during one of her final swings through the crucial battleground state, Clinton diverted from a speech targeting Donald Trump’s foreign policy credentials to address the new headlines about the FBI and her private email server.
Voters might be wondering "why in the world,” as Clinton put it, "the FBI would decide to jump into an election with no evidence of any wrongdoing, with just days to go.”
"That is a good question,” Clinton said at Kent State University, where more than 2,400 people packed into the atrium and watched from above on balconies two levels up.
The news that FBI Director James Comey would take additional investigative steps related to Clinton’s private email server, months after not recommending charges in a formal inquiry earlier this year, came as a shock to the candidate and her aides last Friday. The following day, at a rally for volunteers in Daytona Beach, Clinton pushed back against Comey himself and promised her supporters that she would not back down in the face of a what she said was a “strange” and “unprecedented” move by the FBI so close to a presidential election.
On Monday, Clinton sought to address the issue in more depth, acknowledging, as she has at points this year, that her private email setup has raised legitimate concerns in the minds of voters. (At other times in the last 19 months, Clinton has been more dismissive of the email flap, offering reporters defiant and defensive responses to questions.)
"First of all,” she said here in Kent, "for those of you who are concerned about my using personal email, I understand, and as I’ve said: I’m not making excuses, I’ve said it was a mistake and I regret it.”
Clinton told the crowd that the FBI is now “apparently” looking at the emails of one of her closest aides, Huma Abedin, the campaign’s vice chair and the separated wife of former Congressman Anthony Weiner, whose sexually charged messages to an underage girl, part of a separate ongoing investigation, reportedly led to the FBI's new activity.
“By all means, they should look at them, and I am sure they will reach the same conclusion they did when they looked at my emails for the last year,” Clinton said.
That Clinton is talking about Abedin’s emails in what would otherwise have been a speech focused entirely on Trump and his fitness to serve, comes as a blow to a campaign that, until Friday, had nearly every advantage in the homestretch to Election Day.
The approach, on Monday, seemed designed to reassure supporters that nothing has changed. "There is no case here. And they said it wasn’t even a close call,” she added, making a reference, Clinton aides said, to Comey’s testimony this fall, when he told members of Congress that for those involved in the investigation at the FBI, “this was not a close call.”
How voters will react to the news remains to be seen, though initial polling seems to indicate a mixed, and partisan, response — something Clinton echoed on Monday.
"I think most people have decided a long time ago what they think about all this," she said.
"Now what people are focused on is choosing the next president and commander-in-chief of the United States of America."