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Hillary Clinton emails: How FBI verdict affects US election

Anthony Zurcher
North America reporter
@awzurcheron Twitter

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  • US election 2016
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It was much ado about nothing, but it certainly amounted to something.

While FBI Director James Comey, in effect, said "never mind" with regards to Hillary Clinton's emails, for the past two weeks the story has dominated the political conversation, and Democrats have paid a price.

While Mrs Clinton's standings in the polls have stabilised a bit, talk of a possible Clinton rout are a distant memory and many of Democrats running on the ballot alongside Mrs Clinton have seen their standing diminished.

As the campaign comes to a close, the Clinton campaign will likely tout these results and try to focus back on its closing message. Chances are Donald Trump will continue to accuse Mrs Clinton of corruption, and he has already started once again alleging that the FBI is rigging the system to cover up for the former secretary of state.

With only two days until voting, it's more than likely that the dust kicked up by this story won't have fully settled by the time Americans head to the polls.

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  • FBI boss - both hero and villain
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image copyrightAP

When determining the political fallout of this latest development, it's worth remembering that the race between Mr Trump and Mrs Clinton was already tightening in the days leading up to the first Comey letter. Surveys taken after the revelation indicated that few Americans considered the story grounds for changing their vote. The divide between the two candidates is simply too great to allow much ticket-switching at this point.

What the story did do was knock Mr Trump out of the headlines for over a week, giving him space to bring disaffected Republicans back into the fold. It also prevented Mrs Clinton from ending the campaign on a positive message and increased negative perceptions of her, which will make it harder for her to govern if she is elected.

Once this election is in the rear-view mirror, there will have to be a lot of soul-searching within the FBI and the media about how this story has played out and been covered. Following Mr Comey's original letter, the nation's top law-enforcement became a constant source of leaks, as internal factions and disputes spilled into public view.

Many pundits and analysts speculated that there would be no way Mr Comey would release the letter so close to the election unless Mrs Clinton's situation was truly dire. Those conclusions proved unfounded.

If Mr Trump wins, many will attribute it to Mr Comey's actions and subject him to withering criticism. They will point to the fact that he disregarded longstanding Justice Department policy of restraint when it comes with the release of possibly inflammatory information in the months before a general election.

If Mrs Clinton prevails, she likely will bear a grudge that is difficult to let go. The Clintons have long memories. If the tensions between the Obama Justice Department and the FBI have been high, they will only get higher.

Either way the FBI director will have quite a mess to clean up.

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