Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Support NHPR with your tax-deductible year-end gift today!

Week In Politics: FBI Reopens Case Into Hillary Clinton's Emails


After this news broke, Donald Trump at a New Hampshire rally said today that Hillary Clinton, in his words, must not be allowed to take her criminal scheme into the Oval Office. And he spoke of the FBI's letter as a corrective to Director Comey's previous announcement that there were no grounds to prosecute.


DONALD TRUMP: I have great respect for the fact that the FBI and the Department of Justice are now willing to have the courage to right the horrible mistake that they made.

SIEGEL: And this is where we'll start with our Friday political observers - columnists David Brooks of The New York Times and E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and The Brookings Institution. Good to see you both.

E J DIONNE, BYLINE: Good to be with you.

DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Good to see you.

SIEGEL: E.J., first - an October surprise? A potential game-changer? A minor irritant for Hillary Clinton? What do you think?

DIONNE: I think it's a real mess. You know, this statement from John Podesta that we just heard about is a really angry statement. It includes the line, it is extraordinary that we would see something like this just 11 days out from a presidential election. And he said that the director owes it to the American people to provide details.

Kasie Hunt of NBC made a good point earlier today. Comey is in a very difficult place here because Democrats, on the one side, are saying, look, you can't just toss this out there to - in the middle of an election and say only this. Republicans are saying much the same thing - what is this about?

And so I think it's going to be very interesting to see what, if anything, Comey does in the coming days. This is obviously the last thing Hillary Clinton wanted at a - in a race that she seems on track to win, and this could untrack it. By the way, Trump said they, the FBI, was right a terrible wrong here. This was just Comey saying, hey, we got new information.

SIEGEL: David, what do you think about - about this news from the FBI?

BROOKS: Well, first of all, I don't think it's going to alter the race fundamentally, but it is going to change - it's going to change things. It's happening on two levels. One is the legal level. What is actually in the information the FBI has? And that's - I doubt we'll find that out by November 11. The other level is just the Kardashian level - that we are - now we've gotten a whole election.

We've had some sex scandals. We've had Trump's alleged groping. We now got a guy allegedly sexting to a 15-year-old, girl and our election is being determined by - is being shrouded in sexual abuse and sleaziness.

And so this story will make "Entertainment Tonight." It'll be a staple of comedian talk shows for the next several days. And so it will reinforce among those who are sympathetic to this view that they're both kind of sleazy and maybe there's not a big difference between the two of them.

DIONNE: It is truly remarkable that the Anthony Weiner sexting investigation would somehow barrel into the presidential campaign this close to the end of it. It's astonishing.

SIEGEL: Well, this is the year of the email, David. I mean, we've also had the WikiLeaks releases, which purport to be the emails of the Democratic National Committee, John Podesta. Wikileaks is - has tried to be a player in this race. So far, what have they accomplished?

BROOKS: Well, I guess my view is I thought the emails, when we learned that we were going to get all these internal emails, would be a lot worse. I thought, I mean, a high-stakes political campaign. I'm cursing off everybody. I'm insulting all these groups. What you've got is essentially the view that the Clintons are - always got a whiff of scandal but never anything felonious.

And I think that's what you see in a lot of the emails. Whether it's the foundation or anything else, they're cutting some corners. They're playing little deals, but they're careful not to commit any major crimes. So it's - it's sort of - it's sort of nasty around the edges but not really something shocking.

DIONNE: I mean, in many cases, these emails show that the Clinton campaign is running a political campaign. A lot of them give you, in a very candid way, all the calculations they are making. And if you don't like Clinton, you say this shows how calculating she is. And if you like Clinton, you say all campaigns think like this. One of the remarkable subtexts was Chelsea Clinton.

I think the way in which she intervened when she was worried that the Clinton Foundation was going in a direction that could be harmful to her parents, we learned a lot about Chelsea Clinton and what she's made of from this exchange.

SIEGEL: She was answering Doug Band, the Clinton aide who - who wouldn't respond said, well, I've actually generated lots of money for the Clinton Foundation. I've also generated money for Bill Clinton, for Clinton, Inc.

DIONNE: Right, and she felt that he was doing things that might endanger the Clintons in the long run. It's just - it's a fascinating drama. I'm not sure it's harmful to Clinton's election chances. I don't think so.

BROOKS: Yeah, I - his story is that she's a prima donna jet-setting in and ruining the machine he's built. Her version is she's the keeper of the truths. I think I more side a little with her because what he's doing is clearly greasing the wheels for his own access.

SIEGEL: Let's turn a little bit down ballot here for a moment. If the Democrats gain four seats in the Senate and Hillary Clinton gets elected president, making Tim Kaine the vice president and the Senate tiebreaker, then the Democrats gain control of the Senate. That's the presidency plus four Senate seats. Hillary Clinton was in North Carolina this week talking up the Senate race. That's where incumbent Richard Burr, the Republican, is in a surprisingly close race against Democrat Deborah Ross.


HILLARY CLINTON: And let's send Deborah Ross to the United States.


CLINTON: You know, she will be an independent voice for the working families of this state, and she will help break through the gridlock in Washington.

SIEGEL: An interesting race in North Carolina. David Brooks, first you. Do you think the Senate is likely to change - change hands? And what's an interesting race you're looking at?

BROOKS: Yeah, I think it - I think it is likely to change hands. There are six states where they're sort of toss-up races - Indiana, Pennsylvania, Nevada, North Carolina, Missouri and New Hampshire. And the Democrats have a slight lead - very slight lead, but a slight lead in five of those six. North Carolina is the only one where the Republicans have a slight lead. And they only need to take three of those six, so you'd have to think the odds benefit them.


DIONNE: Right, and I think the Senate races in the last couple of weeks - we'll see what happens in the last 11 days - but the last couple of weeks have tilted the Democrats' way as a reaction has set in against Trump since that "Access Hollywood" video came out. What's fascinating is - David listed the targets right - North Carolina's very interesting because that's a state where there's a backlash against the Republican Governor McCrory for a whole lot of different things.

The governor's race may lead the presidential ticket and the Senate race into the Democratic column. It's coattails from below. And then the race that's on the list that no one expected was Missouri, where the Democrats have a really strong candidate. And that's - that's the surprise in the list. And New Hampshire seems to have tilted more towards the Democrats, so their chances have improved a lot, I think, over the last couple of weeks.

SIEGEL: Yeah, Missouri is where Jason Kander, the Democrat, is running a strong race, it seems, against Blunt - against Roy Blunt, who is a...

DIONNE: With one of the best television ads of the year - assembling a rifle in 30 seconds.

SIEGEL: David, I've - I've a question for you. You wrote today about the dilemma of conservative intellectuals. I gather that all of you, after this election, are all going to go - you're all going to go to Aspen together or something and figure out what to do next. Do think there are fundamental problems for the Republicans, or is this just a flukey year that's been hard for you guys?

BROOKS: Yeah, well, Bill Buckley was my mentor, and we're a long way from Bill Buckley.

SIEGEL: We've come a long way, yes.

BROOKS: And I think the big structural problem, aside from the intellectual problems, is that conservatism went down-market to win revenue with the Internet, with talk radio, with Fox News. It's got a lot of interview - Ann Coulter at the bottom of the - what I would call the intellectual food chain.

And there's been a lot of momentum built up around that populism. And how you reverse that is the big challenge. I will say, when you talk to young people, young evangelicals, young economic conservatives, they're comfortable with diversity. They hate Donald Trump. They're inspiring. So I'm - I'm sticking out - hopeful for the future.

SIEGEL: You think...

DIONNE: I give David - Godspeed, David, at reforming conservatism, because it really needs it, and Trump has shown it.

SIEGEL: E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times, thanks to both of you.

DIONNE: Thank you.

BROOKS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.