Hillary Clinton directly blames FBI director James Comey for her loss, telling her campaign’s biggest fundraisers and donors today that his two letters to Congress tilted several crucial states to Donald Trump.
“There are lots of reasons why an election like this is not successful,” she said on a wrap-up conference call with her national finance committee, according to a person on the call. “But our analysis is that Jim Comey’s letter raising doubts that were groundless [and] baseless—and proven to be—stopped our momentum.”
In Comey’s first letter on Oct 28, he said the bureau was examining newly discovered emails to see whether there was any evidence incriminating Clinton for her handling of classified information while serving as secretary of state. Comey’s second letter on Nov. 6, two days before Election Day, said no incriminating information had been found.
Comey’s second letter, which effectively re-exonerated her, ironically ended up mobilizing the Trump vote, Clinton said, according to the person on the call, who asked to remain anonymous because he or she was not authorized to speak for the campaign.
The Clinton campaign was not immediately available for comment.
“After the third debate we felt so good about where we were,” Clinton said. “[Our analysis] showed that we were up in all but two of the battleground states, where we were tied or one point behind. In Arizona we were even. We felt real wind at our back.”
Clinton told the supporters that the campaign clawed its way back after the first Comey letter: “We had to really push ahead to regain our advantage, which going into the last weekend we had. We were once again up in all of the battleground states. We were up considerably in some that we wound up losing. And we were feeling like we had put it back together.”
Then, the second Comey letter landed: “Our analysis shows, in our opinion, that just as we were back on an upward trajectory the second letter from Comey saying what we knew, that essentially there was no there there, was a real motivator for Trump voters.”
Clinton’s assignation of blame comes after her senior staff told supporters on a separate call two days ago, on Nov. 10, that Comey is the person “who we think may have cost us the election.” Campaign chairman John Podesta also faulted the media.
Navin Nayak, Clinton’s head of opinion research, wrote in an email to staff:
We believe that we lost this election in the last week. Comey’s letter in the last 11 days of the election both helped depress our turnout and also drove away some of our critical support among college-educated white voters — particularly in the suburbs. We also think Comey’s 2nd letter, which was intended to absolve Sec. Clinton, actually helped to bolster Trump’s turnout.
Nayak specifically blamed Comey’s letters for lower voter turnout in crucial big cities like Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and Detroit. The swing states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, respectively, ended up as the crucial margin of victory for Trump in the Electoral College. In the end, the election was decided by fewer than 110,000 votes in those three states.