AMY WALTER: The FBI reopens its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails with less than two weeks until Election Day. I’m Amy Walter, in for Gwen Ifill, tonight on Washington Week.
FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: (From video.) We are 11 days out from perhaps the most important national election of our lifetimes. So the American people deserve to get the full and complete facts immediately.
DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) 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.
MS. WALTER: Down in the polls, but not out, Donald Trump continues to attack Hillary Clinton about her private email server, and breaking news shifts the spotlight away from Hillary Clinton’s frontrunner status to the reopened criminal probe that won’t wrap up until after the election. We’ll get analysis on the presidential race and find out why Washington gridlock may be inevitable regardless of who wins the White House.
Joining us tonight, Michael Scherer, Washington bureau chief for TIME Magazine; Ashley Parker, political correspondent for The New York Times; Anne Gearan, political correspondent for The Washington Post; and Reid Wilson, congressional correspondent for The Hill.
ANNOUNCER: Award-winning reporting and analysis. Covering history as it happens. Live from our nation’s capital, this is Washington Week with Gwen Ifill. Once again, live from Washington, sitting in for Gwen Ifill this week, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report.
MS. WALTER: Good evening. The FBI dropped an October surprise on Hillary Clinton today, announcing it’s reopening the investigation into her private email server. In a letter to Congress, FBI Director James Comey said: “…the FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation…the FBI cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant, and I cannot predict how long it will take us to complete this additional work.” Late Friday, Clinton herself came out with a statement and took reporters’ questions on the FBI’s announcement.
MRS. CLINTON: (From video.) So we don’t know the facts, which is why we are calling on the FBI to release all the information that it has. Even Director Comey noted that this new information may not be significant. So let’s get it out.
MS. WALTER: So, Michael, a few months ago the FBI said they wrapped up their investigation. What changed?
MICHAEL SCHERER: Well, actually what’s happening now comes out of what happened a few months ago. Not only did they end the investigation, say they found no criminal wrongdoing from Clinton, but FBI Director Comey was incredibly transparent and public at the end of that. He went to Capitol Hill. He testified before Congress about it. He gave an extensive statement of saying what was inappropriate about what Clinton had done with her email. And because of that, it appears, he now feels he has to follow up with another letter.
The letter he wrote – that was released today says that because I’ve testified in the past that this investigation was essentially over I now want to tell you that I may look at this – at these other emails. Now, it’s not what Trump said in the clip at the top of the thing. He’s not saying I’m going to right the horrible mistake I made before. (Laughs.) What he’s saying is, that there’s other emails that have come to our attention – reporting from a bunch of different news outlets says this is because of the Anthony Weiner investigation – that have to do with material that may be pertinent to this investigation.
Normally we wouldn’t know about any of this. Normally in a normal criminal investigation this is not public. Congress doesn’t get to ask the FBI director where are you, you know, in this criminal investigation. But this is not a normal case. And so Comey has sort of caught himself in a difficult position here. You have tonight both the Clinton campaign calling for him to be more transparent, but also the Trump campaign calling for him to release more information. And I think pretty much everybody in Washington thinking it’s pretty intense to have 11 days before an election a letter like this come out that just says something might be wrong, but we don’t even know if it is wrong.
MS. WALTER: Well, and Anne, tell us a little bit about the Clinton campaign. You covered the Clinton campaign. She was on the plane when this news broke. The wi-fi service on the plane is spotty, so she didn’t even know about this, neither did the reporters there when they landed. Talk to us about not only her reaction – we saw her speaking there – but what you think the campaign is doing right now about this.
ANNE GEARAN: Well, the campaign is doing a sort of a slow-motion version of what they have done in response to this email issue for a year and a half now, which is hunker down, investigate internally, think it through, issue an anodyne statement – in this case from John Podesta – and then work up to having Hillary Clinton say something herself. She looked about as close to being in a hostage video as I’ve seen her – (laughter) – at that podium tonight. She took three and a half minutes of questions. It wasn’t an extensive iteration of this. And she came very close to pointing fingers at Comey in a partisan way. She walked right up to the line of saying this is – this, in her view, is an inappropriate thing for him to be doing. She walked right up to that.
MS. WALTER: And the Trump campaign, we saw him in North Carolina, in that clip, embracing the news. What do you think they are going to do with this? Because in the past the Trump campaign has gotten a lot of gifts handed to them and they haven’t always exploited those particularly well.
ASHLEY PARKER: That’s exactly right. And his aides are actually – they’re very happy with the initial statement he came out with, where in the rally he sort of took this and attacked Clinton and used it to go to some of his key themes that, you know, don’t allow her to bring her corruption to Washington. We need to drain the swamp. But even his own team is kind of waiting with bated breath, because they recognize this is a wonderful issue for them. It plays into all of voters’ doubts about her, about trust, about transparency, about a different set of rules applying.
But they also know that Donald Trump is not always the most focused or disciplined candidate. But he has shown himself capable of being disciplined for narrow stretches of time – about two to three weeks max. And so what they are desperately hoping is that for these final 11 days – (laughs) – he can sort of alight on these emails, alight on this gift that has been handed to him, and hammer that and not mention the women who have come forward to accuse him of groping and how he’s going to sue them, right? I mean, they want all emails and less women. (Laughter.)
MS. WALTER: Right? More emails. Reid, this letter that James Comey sent went to folks up on the Hill in charge of investigative committees. What are we hearing from Capitol Hill? And the bottom line, as Michael pointed out, we don’t really know anything yet. And how long is going to be before we find out what’s in there?
REID WILSON: You’ll be shocked to know that members of Congress are using this for partisan gain. (Laughter.) On the Republican side, what we’ve heard is a cacophony of voices saying that the investigation has been reopened. And as Michael correctly pointed out, the investigation has not been reopened because it was never technically closed. But on the other hand, we don’t know what these emails actually are. So, you know, a lot of news media outlets raced to say that it had been reopened. They walked them back as more details came out, as they more closely read the letter. Members of Congress, especially on the Republican side, did not. The letter was first – I first saw it come out from Jason Chaffetz’s office. He’s going to be the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. And he has said that he will investigate Clinton.
On the other side, Democrats have reacted with fury. Dianne Feinstein called it appalling. She’s the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. She said she was shocked that this had come out 11 days before an election. And Democratic candidates echoed – well, even before Clinton spoke – said a lot of what Clinton just said, that they want a lot of information to come out now so that we know a lot more about what’s in these emails. So fury versus spin – well, I suppose the fury is spin in and of itself, but that’s what we’ve seen from Capitol Hill.
MS. WALTER: Right. So bottom line, there’s still a lot left to understand and a lot left to dig into. But even before the breaking news from the FBI, the Clinton campaign was haunted by the latest batch of emails released by WikiLeaks. The hacked memos reveal overlapping interests between the Clinton family’s personal business and the Clinton Foundation. And, Anne, one of the emails in particular got the most attention. This was a memo that Bill Clinton’s close aide Doug Band wrote about Bill Clinton and his involvement with the Clinton Foundation and with speeches. Can you talk to us a little bit about that and why it’s so potentially damaging?
MS. GEARAN: Well, it’s damaging for several different reasons at once. So here is Bill Clinton’s close, long-time aide, someone who’d worked with him in the White House, worked for him for years afterward, and had sort of separated himself a bit at the time that this email was written, and is running a business, you know, that was very closely tied to Clinton. And there’s the Clinton Foundation. There’s the Clinton Global Initiative charitable operation. And then there’s this consultancy that Doug Band and another guy had started. And they all had a lot of interconnecting lines. I mean, I couldn’t even draw it for you, right? They share donors, they share clients, they share all the same people.
And he’s writing a memo explaining some of that in a very sort of defensive crouch because he’s under attack by Chelsea Clinton who thinks that her dad is being played here and his name is being misused on behalf of Doug Band’s business operations. And he’s saying, oh, wait, well, you know, no, first of all, that isn’t true. I’m a good guy. And second of all, if you think this is so bad well then go talk to Bill Clinton because he’s doing the same thing. This is exactly what people thought in some way was happening with all of these overlapping business and charitable entities. And even though he’s trying to explain that – explain it away, it actually ends up being confirmatory for what a lot of people thought, you know, that there’s just a lot of overlap and the potential for conflict of interest as a result.
MR. SCHERER: The remarkable thing I think is that it undercuts the Clinton line that the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative were really altruistic do-gooder efforts. You know, they have helped a lot of people. There are some programs that have been very beneficial in parts of the world. But it’s clear from this memo that the same operation that was raising money for Haiti or AIDS drugs was making Bill Clinton rich.
And they – and the same operation, Doug Band who’s raising money for the foundation on one hand, says I’m at the same time, without being paid by anyone, the person responsible for getting Bill these million-dollar speaking engagements, for getting him these contracts. And at the same time, I have my own private list of clients who Chelsea Clinton, we know, has accused Doug of trading on Bill Clinton’s name. So there just weren’t these lines of divisions that you would want. And I think the damage there is undercutting the defense that the Clinton campaign has used for months now.
MS. WALTER: Right. Well, there’s more news – more bad news. This is Hillary Clinton’s really not good week, because on top of all of this the White House announced that the health insurance premiums under the Affordable Care Act are going up an average of 25 percent. So, Reid, can you help us explain why these are going up and why the rates are different in different places?
MR. WILSON: Well, first of all, WikiLeaks, plus FBI, plus Affordable Care Act premiums going up – this is a very bad week for the Clinton campaign.
MS. WALTER: This is a very, very, very bad week.
MR. WILSON: It is not good to have a very bad week two weeks before an actual Election Day. But what we’re – what we’re seeing is the median benchmark plans – premiums for the median benchmark plans in all states will rise an average of 16 percent. In states that are just on the federal exchange they’ll rise 25 percent.
And this is largely because health care costs are still rising. They’re rising at a slower rate than they were before the ACA came out, but they’re still rising. And insurers in a lot of these states underpriced their plans so that they could gain a lot of market share at the beginning. And plus, let’s not forget, that the state exchanges are essentially where the sickest of the sick go. They are the most costly. So the costs are going to rise higher.
These actual premium increases – the top line number looks really bad. It’s not that bad for a lot of these consumers because the subsidies that they get will rise as well. And so the vast majority of people will still be able to get a plan for a relatively inexpensive – a relatively inexpensive cost. The people who this affects as well is also a very small population because it’s only people who are getting their plans through the state or federal exchanges.
But the bottom line is here we are, again, two weeks before an election. And despite the fact that President Obama’s approval rating is north of 50 percent and has been for the first time since his first year in office, what we are – I mean, here is his signature domestic achievement, and it’s going to cost us a lot of money, it’s going to cost some people a lot of money, at a time when Hillary Clinton has to defend his domestic policies.
MS. WALTER: Well, and Donald Trump – I mean, again, on Earth 2, in a normal campaign, this would be a very big issue going into the last two weeks. A Republican would make this case very strongly about these premium increases. How has Donald Trump done?
MS. PARKER: Well, back to your point about him being handed a lot of gifts, this is another tremendous gift. This was Mitt Romney’s biggest applause line in 2012. This was what every single Republican House and Senate candidate ran on in 2014. This is the sort of thing that you are dying and craving and desperate to have happen. And let me tell you what Donald Trump did. He – (laughs) – the news comes out, and he’s at one of his properties in Florida.
And he first says, you know, my people here are having tremendous problems with Obamacare. It’s really bad for them. And then moments later he contradicts himself and he says they have no problems with Obamacare because we take good care of them on our healthcare plan. And then he sort of disappeared and left his general manager to try to explain the situation away. And so what should have been a clean political hit for him became a muddled messy thing that did not really hurt Hillary as much as it could have and, again, left people wondering, does Donald Trump really understand the policy?
MS. WALTER: Well, we went from what was a really bad week this week, but the polling that came out certainly earlier this week looked very good for Hillary Clinton. She seemed to be cementing her lead over Donald Trump in most national polls – and there are many national polls. The latest AP poll shows Hillary Clinton with a commanding 13-point lead. In a two-way race she’s up by five points in both The Washington Post and ABC – The Washington Post/ABC News poll and the Fox News poll. The Real Clear Politics average of national polls has Clinton with about a 5.2 percent lead over Donald Trump.
Michael, we began this week, as we said, with some polls, she’s way up, now it’s tightening. Is the race really as volatile as the polls are suggesting?
MR. SCHERER: Well, the polls actually, if you look at the average of polls, are not suggesting a volatile race. Starting with the second debate – the first debate happens, her polls start to go up, his polls start to go down. By the second debate we get to this line where we’re at now, which is roughly a five-point gap between the two, which in a national race for the presidency in this modern day and age is an enormous margin. I mean, we’re used to covering elections where in the final weeks we’re always within the margin of error. And we’re guessing about where it is. This is basically on the very edge of the margin of error. It could change next week.
I think the thing that we have to recognize, though, is that that gap was established by the American people seeing Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on the same stage next to each other. And all the polls from all those debates showed the American people thought she did better and wanted her more as their president after seeing that. I think the question going forward is whether all this new stuff will erase some of that memory in the final 10 days. Traditionally, you know, we think of these elections as not much changes after the last debate, that it’s sort of set in stone there. This is a very weird year, so it’s possible things will change.
The last thing I’d say, though, on this, is that Donald Trump has, for the last three weeks, run a campaign that is not about trying to win more people on this side. I mean, he goes out there and basically talks about his grievances for a while, says everything’s rigged against him, and then repeats his stump speech and sort of bungles the message of the day. So whereas Hillary is very much a broadening campaign where she’s trying to reach people who don’t yet find her. So I think the second variable here is not just whether the image of Hillary Clinton is replaced but whether Trump can actually change his message to talk to the people who don’t yet support him and not just sort of prepare his next media empire for after the election.
MS. WALTER: Well, and we heard him a lot on the trail talking about Brexit and about these dark polls. Is he still discussing this idea that there’s this hidden Trump vote and that’s what’s going ultimately going to deliver him? He doesn’t need to broaden his base because there are voters out there waiting to come and vote for him, and we just don’t know where they are.
MS. PARKER: Exactly. I would say it’s a two-pronged strategy, or thing we hear. One is that, as you mentioned, typically you are trying to broaden the base, reach moderates, independents, swing voters. Donald Trump is simply not trying to do that. He is running what he has sort of publicly been said is a voter suppression campaign on the Democratic side. And again, that’s why this latest disclosure by the FBI, it may not help him win over that many people, but maybe he can depress some Democratic turnout of people who are just – they’re not going to vote for him, but they’re so disgusted with Hillary they’re just going to stay home. That’s the first thing.
The second thing is absolutely he talks about this rigged system, this stolen election. And in interviewing voters, you know, he does believe there’s a silent majority of people who are not counted in the polls or even as they’ll say themselves, you know, they think some people, if they’re being candid, are a little embarrassed to say they’re voting for Donald Trump, but they think they’re going to go into the voting booth, pull the curtain closed behind them, and do exactly what he suggests, which is say: What the hell do I have to lose? And vote for Trump. And he thinks that will make the difference. And they think that will make the difference. And maybe it will help.
MS. WALTER: Well, I want to get to the down ballot effects that this race is having. And there are a lot of Republicans who are concerned that that drop in poll numbers will be a drag on the ticket. Senate Republicans plowing $25 million into just six races to hold onto their majority. Reid, how tenuous is the Republican majority in the Senate right now?
MR. WILSON: Well, it’s very tenuous. And as a matter of fact, the pollsters who are aiming to keep the Senate in Republican hands have been looking for that sort of latent Trump vote. They’ve been testing it and adjusting their polls to try to account for it, and they just can’t find those voters, which I find really interesting. But across the country, the Republicans have a 54-seat – well, a majority of 54 seats in the Senate. Democrats need to take back four seats plus the White House to win control, five seats to win it outright.
You at The Cook Political Report say Democrats are going to pick up five to seven seats. That’s pretty on par with what’s likely to happen. Democrats are almost guaranteed to two seats in Illinois and Wisconsin. Republican incumbents are in real trouble there. Then in five states really these races are on a knife edge. Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, two races that we’ve been watching forever. Indiana, Democrats got a late candidate in Evan Bayh, the former senator, who had $10 million in the bank, which is generally a pretty positive thing to have very late in a campaign, he is ahead in polling there.
And then the two sort of late-breaking races that have come on the map largely because of Donald Trump in Missouri and North Carolina. In Missouri there’s a – you know, Senator Roy Blunt is an insider candidate running in an outsider year. His Democratic opponent has impressed even Republicans at a senior level with how good he is. And then, in North Carolina, a swing state, Senator Richard Burr is running for reelection. It’s very difficult to be known in North Carolina as a candidate because it’s such a broad and diverse state, and that makes a candidate like Richard Burr susceptible to Donald Trump and the sort of drag on the ticket that he may become.
So there are seven seats right there that Democrats may win. Add in an eighth in Marco Rubio down in Florida. He’s ahead in the polls, but not by a lot, even though the Democrats pulled out a lot of their money a few days ago – or a few weeks ago.
And then the one Democratic-held seat that could be in trouble, Nevada. It looks like that has moved towards Democrats in recent days as Trump has become more of a drag.
MS. WALTER: Well, speaking of the Senate and Washington and Congress, a lot of Republican lawmakers seem to be gearing up for gridlock in Washington should Clinton win the White House. Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz, who you mentioned earlier, he heads up the House Oversight Committee. He led the Benghazi investigation. He told The Washington Post he’s gearing up for, quote, “years” of investigation into Hillary Clinton’s record. First-term Texas Senator Ted Cruz raised the possibility that Republicans would not confirm anyone Hillary Clinton would nominate to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February. Cruz, you may recall, led the charge that partially shut down the federal government in 2013. And then we have Trump supporters are loyal and fired up, and they may be putting pressure on lawmakers. Anne, how dysfunctional is Washington going to be should we have a Clinton White House?
MS. GEARAN: Well, even if the Democrats take the Senate, pretty dysfunctional. She has really so little chance of getting much done in Congress if Republicans hold the Senate. She has some chance of getting traction, certainly right at the start on a couple of her big initiatives, if Democrats take the Senate. But they’re not going to take the House under almost all scenarios. So you automatically have enough of a checkmate there that it’s going to be really hard for her to get much done.
You mentioned the Supreme Court. I mean, there is very likely to be a Supreme Court nomination hanging fire, and what’s she going to do?
MS. WALTER: Is this even possible? Is there really a possibility that we will have just eight justices, maybe even seven justices, into the foreseeable future?
MR. SCHERER: Well, the dynamic is that the only thing that unites Republicans right now is their opposition to Democrats, and it was the only thing that saved them in 2009 after Obama came in. Obama got a lot done in 2009, but the Republicans actually congealed into a coherent body and did very well in the midterm elections. The midterm elections in 2018 look also like they’d be very good for Republicans again.
MS. WALTER: All right. Thanks, everybody. That went so quickly! (Laughter.) We have go to now, but as always the conversation continues online on the Washington Week Extra, where among other things we’ll answer the question, is 2016 a change election or just more of the status quo? You can find it all week long at PBS.org/WashingtonWeek. And while you’re there, test your knowledge with the Washington Week-ly – the Washington Week-ly News Quiz.
I’m Amy Walter. Have a good night.