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Damp squib - or smoking gun: What are the facts behind Hillary's email problems?

The late late ‘October surprise’ has reignited the White House race.
Nov 2nd 2016, 6:01 AM 17,710 78

IN US ELECTORAL terms, the phrase ‘October surprise’ refers to a last-minute bombshell about a presidential candidate that fundamentally alters the race.

In this unprecedented election, we’ve almost certainly had two.

Donald Trump’s Access Hollywood tape broke exactly three weeks before FBI director James Comey announced on Friday that the bureau is looking at a fresh batch of emails as part of its investigations into Hillary Clinton.

Clinton’s email issue has been on ongoing one but looked like it was put together over the summer. Things aren’t so clear now, but what exactly do we know?

Campaign 2016 Clinton The emails revelation has added a late development to next week's election. Source: Andrew Harnik/PA Images

What was the problem with Hillary Clinton’s emails?

The former First Lady and Senator served as President Obama’s Secretary of State between 2009 and 2013.

During her tenure as the United State’s top diplomat, Clinton contravened official guidelines by using a personal email address (hdr22@clintonemail.com) via a private server installed in the family home in Chappaqua, New York.

Years of investigations into their affairs had made the Clintons wary of their privacy and the email server was installed at their home to house communications by the Clinton Foundation.

The problem was that official information was now held outside US government accounts and was both out of public hands and potentially at risk to hackers.

Hillary Clinton apologised for what she called a mistake but maintained that she did nothing illegal.

Classified

Election Hacking Clinton's opponents claim her handling of the official emails put the country at risk. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Clinton’s personal account accumulated more than 60,000 emails over four years. At the State Department’s request, she turned over around half of them, pertaining to her official duties, in October 2014, and deleted those deemed personal.

After investigating emails sent and received by the former secretary of state, the FBI had concluded that 110 messages contained classified information at the time they were sent.

More than 2,000 emails were later categorised as ‘classified’ or containing confidential or secret information, fuelling attacks by Clinton critics who said she put national security at risk.

Despite concluding that Clinton used a personal email account to send and receive classified information, the FBI’s director James Comey announced in July that the bureau would not be pushing for criminal charges against Clinton or her team.

Comey said that the candidate’s actions were “extremely careless” rather than criminal.

So why is this back on the agenda?

Clinton Emails News Guide Source: Evan Vucci/AP

For Donald Trump and his supporters this was never off the agenda, but on Friday the FBI itself brought it right back to the fore.

In a shock announcement, 11 days before election day, Comey revealed that the agency was reviewing a new batch of emails that “appear to be pertinent to the investigation”.

It subsequently transpired that the emails came to the attention of the FBI as part of investigations into disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner.

Weiner, who resigned in 2011 after sending explicit online messages, is under federal investigation over allegations he sent sexual overtures to a 15-year-old girl.

Weiner is the estranged husband of Huma Abedin, one of Clinton’s top aides, and the emails relating to Clinton were discovered on a laptop seized as part of investigations into Weiner.

By saying the FBI were examining the new information, Comey effectively announced that the FBI had reopened the probe into Clinton’s emails.

What do the emails say? 

Campaign 2016 Clinton Email Weiner and his estranged wife during his failed New York Mayoral bid. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Nobody really knows yet, save for Abedin who presumably sent the communications.

The emails could perhaps reveal more classified information was carelessly used by Clinton’s team, or they may reveal nothing.

There is so far no indication the FBI could eventually revisit its decision not to charge Clinton but Trump has warned of a “constitutional crisis” should she be charged while President.

It is this uncertainty that Clinton has seized upon and appealed to the FBI for more details.

“The American people deserve to get the full and complete facts immediately,” she said.

We don’t know the facts, which is why we are calling on the FBI to release all the information that it has.

Electoral affairs

The timing of the restarted investigation into Clinton has led to allegations that Comey may have broken the law by attempting to influence the course of the election.

Comey, a Republican appointee, has come under fire from Democrats for making the announcement so close to election day.

Dozens of former federal prosecutors have signed a letter critical of Comey’s decision but the White House has refused to criticise him.

Spokesman Josh Earnest said he would “neither defend nor criticise” Comey and that President Barack Obama considered Comey to be “a man of integrity, a man of principle and he’s a man of good character.”

With reporting by © – AFP 2016

Read: Clinton emails: FBI obtains warrant to investigate as director told he may have broken the law >

Read: Clinton says FBI actions ‘deeply troubling’ as Trump steps up his attacks >

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Rónán Duffy

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