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FBI's Renewed Inquiry Into Clinton Email Case Comes 11 Days Before Election Day


No one we want to hear from more now than NPR's Ron Elving, who joins us from the studios in Washington. Ron, thanks very much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Scott, it's good to be with you. I got my Wrigley throat right here in Washington.

SIMON: (Laughter) Oh, boy. This - a very sultry interview we do today.

ELVING: (Laughter).

SIMON: Ron, you could count the number of days until the election on your hands, couldn't you?

ELVING: Just about exactly, there are 10 days left after today.

SIMON: Why would the FBI do this right before an election?

ELVING: One way to look at it might be this phrase we keep hearing, abundance of caution. James Comey's focus, of course, is not on Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. It's much closer to home for him. He's focused on his bureau and his role. And with all this talk that we've been hearing about a rigged election, he does not want to be seen in any way as protecting Clinton.

SIMON: Well, that certainly is not the case at the moment. Some people consider the caution to be a monkey wrench in the Clinton campaign, don't they?

ELVING: Yes, indeed. And it is highly unusual - to put it mildly - for the bureau to do anything this close to an election, as we just heard Carrie say. This is something they don't like to do at any level - not for members of Congress and their election campaigns or for lesser offices. That's just been a Justice Department custom.

SIMON: So as you can discern it right now, Ron, why has the FBI shifted, you know, really decades of tradition now?

ELVING: We don't really know at this moment. But we do know that Director Comey has been under tremendous pressure ever since his announcement back in July. Republicans have been ripping him for not going further than his criticism of Secretary Clinton, which was quite strong, for her extreme carelessness.

And, you know, Donald Trump has been casting doubt on the legitimacy of the whole process. And here's the thing - the director might well have expected that if there is something being discussed internally at the FBI about these Weiner emails, whatever they are, that would become public at some point, whether he wanted that to happen or not. And he didn't want to appear to have suppressed them.

SIMON: What's your estimation, as we speak today, on how this affects the presidential election in 10 days?

ELVING: Well, let's start with the obvious, it's a tremendous boon to the Trump campaign. They've been thrown a life preserver of sorts. They had just had another week of mostly bad news, mostly down in the polls. We had just learned how far behind they are in terms of fundraising. We found out that the candidate himself had not contributed nearly as much money to the effort as he had promised back in 2015. And there was beginning to be something of an air of resignation about elements of the Trump campaign...

SIMON: Yeah...

ELVING: ...Not the rallies, not the rallies, of course, but...

SIMON: ...But

ELVING: ...Internally.

SIMON: Yeah, a lot of major Republican donors openly had started concentrating on races down the ballot, hadn't they?

ELVING: Absolutely, right. So now they have a new opportunity at the Trump level of the campaign, a fresh point of focus for all their attacks on Clinton's integrity, on her lack of transparency. And it's a way to make her the target, again, instead of Trump for a change. And this, of course, applies to Republicans - whatever they're running for. And so, for the next few days at least, it's going to be Clinton at the bottom of the rain barrel.

SIMON: And how do you think this latest turn in events might affect races for the important contest for the Senate and the House and other races?

ELVING: If Republicans feel re-energized by this change in the news, if their enthusiasm level rises at the voter level, they're going to have more reason to turn out and vote on November 8 or sooner - of course, voting has begun in much of the country. And the turnout question is what has been troubling Republicans about down-ballot races. They're afraid that even popular Republicans might lose if not enough of their Republican people turn out to vote. On the other hand, it could be said that the renewal of the email controversy, yet again, does not solve the other problem that Republicans have with their turnout, which is that a number of their usual voters have problems with the man at the top of their ticket.

SIMON: And I guess do we need to note that, although it might be thoroughly without justification, anything that links Anthony Weiner's name with Hillary Rodham Clinton's name 10 days before the election can't be good news for the Clinton campaign?

ELVING: It's pretty much toxic. It's pretty much the last thing in the world they want to talk about. And it's pretty much the last thing anyone would want to have as they were going into any election for any office.

SIMON: We keep saying we've never seen an election like this (laughter).

ELVING: I think we could stand it if we don't see another.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks very much for being with us from Washington today.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott, and go Cubs. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.