In an extraordinary and unprecedented action, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has stepped into the 2016 presidential campaign only 11 days before Election Day, sending a letter to Congress announcing new "investigative steps" related to Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server.
The three-paragraph letter by FBI Director James Comey to eight congressional committees on Friday is remarkably vague. It states that "in connection with an unrelated case, the FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation" of Clinton's personal email server, which, Comey notes, he had previously told Congress was "completed."
He states that he has agreed to "allow investigators to review these emails to determine whether they contain classified information, as well as to assess their importance to our investigation." He acknowledges that the FBI "cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant."
The obvious question that arises is why, given the fact that the FBI has no idea whether these additional emails contain any significant information relative to the Clinton email case, the agency should make them a public issue within days of the election. Media commentators noted that the letter violates a longstanding informal FBI ban on making politically sensitive announcements within 60 days of a US election.
Following the report of Comey's letter, the news media, citing unnamed federal law enforcement officials, said the emails in question were found on a laptop computer shared by Clinton aide Huma Abedin and her husband, former Representative Anthony Weiner.
Weiner is under FBI investigation for allegedly sending sexually explicit text messages to an underage girl. Abedin announced her separation from Weiner earlier this year after the latest episode involving Weiner and sexually explicit Internet activity became public.
Comey's letter was hailed by Donald Trump and Republican Party spokesmen as tantamount to an official reopening of the FBI investigation and rescinding of the decision announced by Comey in July that no charges would be brought against the Democratic presidential candidate.
Clinton spoke to the press briefly Friday evening, demanding that the FBI provide more information about the substance of what it was reviewing, including whether there was any connection to her use of a private email server. She pointed out that more than 15 million people have already voted and that many millions more will be going to the polls over the next week as early voting continues. In response to questions, she indicated that the FBI has not contacted her and that she first learned of the letter through the media.
It is at this point impossible to determine with precision the motivation behind Comey's letter and the political forces for which he is speaking. However, his attempt to present the letter as a politically disinterested response to the discovery of new information lacks any credibility.
This direct intervention into the election by the top police-intelligence agency can only be an expression of deep crisis and profound tensions within the American ruling class and the state. The election as a whole has been dominated by the growth of social anger and anti-establishment sentiment, yet it has ended in a contest between two right-wing representatives of the richest 1 percent who are despised by huge sections of the electorate.
It has plumbed the depths of political debasement on the part of both candidates -- the fascistic billionaire Trump seeking to channel discontent along the most right-wing, chauvinist and racist channels; the multimillionaire Clinton relying on sex scandals and a McCarthyite attack on Trump as an agent of Russian President Vladimir Putin to bury incriminating revelations of corruption and lying and to swing public opinion behind a policy of military escalation and confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia.
The entire process has been surrounded by an aura of violence and a breakdown of public confidence in the political system. It has unfolded under conditions of deepening economic crisis, mounting international tensions and worsening crises for US imperialism around the world, i.e., the ongoing debacle of Washington's war for regime change in Syria, the signs of disarray in the anti-Chinese "pivot to Asia," the emergence of open conflicts with imperialist "allies" in Europe, particularly Germany.
The convergence of these crises is generating bitter conflicts within the American ruling class over policy questions, magnified by fears of a rising tide of social opposition at home.
Whether the intention of Comey's letter was to inflict fatal damage to Clinton's candidacy, shore up endangered Republican majorities in the Senate and House, or fire a shot across the bow against an incoming Clinton administration, it makes clear that the next administration will be mired in crisis from the day it takes office.