Months after they declared James B. Comey an honest arbiter, Democrats are now mounting a full assault on the FBI director, accusing him of inappropriate meddling in the presidential election after he notified Congress last week that he has renewed an investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s secret email server.
The revelation, which Mr. Comey made in a letter Friday, may already be hurting Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign. At least two daily tracking polls — the ABC News/Washington Post and IBD/TIPP surveys — found Republican Donald Trump surging to within 1 or 2 percentage points of Mrs. Clinton, though the Democrat maintained her lead.
Mrs. Clinton’s top campaign advisers insisted this weekend that they still saw enthusiasm for their candidate and said volunteers and voters may be even more eager to help after Mr. Comey’s move. But that didn’t stop them from seething from his decision.
“To throw this in the middle of a campaign 11 days out just seems to break with precedent and be inappropriate at this stage,” Clinton campaign manager John Podesta said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, wrote a letter to Mr. Comey saying he may have broken the law by informing Congress of new emails his agents found and believe could be relevant to the investigation. Mr. Reid said it appeared the FBI director, who just a few months ago had saved Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, now potentially violated laws that he said bar the FBI from trying to influence an election.
“Through your partisan actions, you may have broken the law,” wrote Mr. Reid, who has become his party’s most strident attack dog. “The double standard established by your actions is clear.”
The attacks continued Sunday night as the Clinton campaign circulated an open letter criticizing Mr. Comey from more than 80 former federal prosecutors and Justice Department officials, including Eric H. Holder Jr., the Obama administration’s first attorney general.
“Many of us have worked with Director Comey; all of us respect him. But his unprecedented decision to publicly comment on evidence in what may be an ongoing inquiry just eleven days before a presidential election leaves us both astonished and perplexed,” the letter said.
Mr. Comey, in his letter to Congressional committees last week, said his agents had come across emails in a separate investigation that might be “pertinent” to the probe into Mrs. Clinton’s own emails and her mishandling of classified information.
The FBI director didn’t disclose what the other investigation was, but a source said it was looking into sexually related messages sent by former Rep. Anthony Weiner, who is married to Huma Abedin, Mrs. Clinton’s closest personal aide. Ms. Abedin and Mr. Weiner have since separated, but reports indicate that Ms. Abedin may have sent or received emails bearing on the Clinton investigation from a device she shared with Mr. Weiner — but which she didn’t turn over when asked by the administration.
Reports on Sunday said the FBI has obtained a warrant to begin to go over the emails.
It’s unclear how long the FBI’s review might take, but Democrats are demanding that Mr. Comey say more, now, to shine light on what his agents are doing. They predicted that the investigation will not produce any new evidence against Mrs. Clinton.
Mrs. Clinton set up an account on a secret email server maintained at her home in New York during her time in the State Department. That effectively shielded her communications from public disclosure, thwarting open-records laws, for nearly six years.
Mr. Comey concluded that the arrangement represented a reckless risk to national security because the former secretary of state sent and received top-secret emails from her system, which was not well-shielded from cyberattacks. But Mr. Comey stopped short of pursuing criminal charges, saying Mrs. Clinton was too inept to understand the risk she was running.
Republicans blasted that decision at the time, saying Mrs. Clinton’s recklessness was criminal. Democrats, meanwhile, said Mr. Comey was being fair. Now, all that good will toward the FBI director has dissipated.
Mr. Reid’s letter accusing Mr. Comey of breaking the law was the most extreme, but other Democrats questioned his motives, saying his letter was too vague and too late in the campaign to be considered fair.
Still, Clinton campaign officials were unable to say what Ms. Abedin’s emails contain. “We don’t know what computer Mr. Comey is talking about,” Mr. Podesta said.
Mr. Trump, meanwhile, called the email controversy “the biggest political scandal since Watergate.”
Whether that will be true politically remains to be seen.
Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook told reporters Saturday that their troops are still engaged.
“We are seeing people rallying behind Hillary,” Mr. Mook said.
Early signs suggest, however, that the polls are shifting.
The ABC News poll found Mrs. Clinton ahead by 46 percent to 45 percent after leading Mr. Trump a week ago by 12 percentage points, “cementing Trump’s resurgence in the past week and marking the potentially critical role of turnout in the election’s outcome,” said the survey’s analysis.
The poll also found that a third of voters are less likely to support Mrs. Clinton based on Mr. Comey’s announcement.
Meanwhile, the IBD/TIPP poll found Mrs. Clinton leading Mr. Trump 44 percent to 42 percent on Sunday, meaning her lead had shrunk by 2 percentage points from the day before in a survey billed as the nation’s most accurate.
“Overall, the poll narrowed on Saturday by two points from the day before, suggesting some Clinton supporters are having second thoughts following FBI Director James Comey’s stunning decision late Friday to reopen the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a home-brew email server while secretary of state,” said the Investor’s Business Daily analysis.