PHOENIX – Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump declared Saturday that “the silent majority is back,” as he predicted victory in a presidential race roiled by new questions of Democrat Hillary Clinton’s legal jeopardy over her use of a private email system.
Trump seized on FBI Director James Comey’s announcement Friday that he is at least temporarily continuing an inquiry he had previously declared closed. Democrats frantically demanded answers about the scope of Comey’s additional inquiry and questioned the timing and motives of his announcement.
“As you’ve heard, it was just announced yesterday that the FBI is reopening their investigation into the criminal conduct and the illegal conduct of Hillary Clinton,” Trump said.
That was a broad overstatement. Comey recommended in July that Clinton not be charged in the case and his letter to Congress on Friday said that it is unknown if the emails now being reviewed are significant.
But the crowd at the Trump rally roared.
“Hillary has nobody but herself to blame for her mounting legal difficulties,” he said.
“Her criminal action was willful, deliberate, intentional and purposeful,” he continued. “Hillary set up an illegal server for the obvious purpose of shielding her criminal conduct from public disclosure and exposure,” he said, “knowing full well that her actions put our national security at risk.”
Trump floated his own theories, shifting focus away from his own controversies in the hope of scoring a last-minute surge in an race that even his staff admits he’s losing.
He said the only explanation for the FBI move is that “very, very serious things must have been found.”
Trump stuck closely to a theme that has held resonance throughout the long presidential campaign – the idea that the nation’s political system is corrupt and weighted toward those who already have power and money.
“Hillary Clinton’s corruption is corrosive to the soul of our nation and it must be stopped,” he said.
He invoked the history of scandal or controversy attached to Clinton and her husband former President Bill Clinton.
“Haven’t we had enough drama with the Clintons?” he asked.
As he did earlier in the day in Golden, Colorado, Trump congratulated himself for suggesting that former U.S. congressman Anthony Weiner’s connection to Clinton could trip her up.
“I had no idea it was going to be that accurate,” he said.
According to two people familiar with the situation, the newly discovered emails were found on a computer seized during an investigation of former U.S. congressman Anthony Weiner. Weiner is separated from his wife, top Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
Before Trump took the stage, Carl Mueller, whose daughter Kayla Mueller was taken captive and killed by the Islamic State, spoke at the rally support of Trump.
At one point during Trump’s remarks, a man in the back off the crowd tuned toward the press, who were working in a dedicated area at the rear of the venue, and loudly chanted: “Jew-S-A!”
The crowd also cheered Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose hard-line stance on illegal immigration has made him a folk hero for some and a symbol of racism or intolerance for others, and former Republican governor Jan Brewer.
“When Hillary’s lips are moving, what is she doing?” Brewer called, as the crowd shouted back: “Lying!”
Amid chants of “Lock her up!” Brewer went on.
“The bombshell that was dropped yesterday – looks like she was just too reckless even for FBI Director Comey,” Brewer said, mispronouncing the name.
“Hillary thinks Arizona is in play in November, and Arizona will turn from a red state to a blue state,” Brewer said, as the crowd began to boo.
“Don’t boo, vote!” Brewer said, laughing. It’s a line also used frequently by Clinton and first lady Michelle Obama.
Democrats see Arizona as an opportunity to expand the map of battleground states this year, owing largely to Trump’s high unpopularity with women and Hispanic voters, or at least to force him to spend money and time defending the state. Clinton will campaign in Phoenix on Wednesday.
Earlier Saturday, Clinton demanded answers about what she suggested is a politically motivated renewal of the previously shuttered federal inquiry into her email with just days to go in the presidential election.
“It’s pretty strange to put something like that out with so little information right before an election,” Clinton said as a supportive crowd cheered her on and booed the mention of Comey’s name.
Other Democrats went much further, issuing scathing assessments of Comey’s motives and timing, as the potential for new legal jeopardy involving the Democratic nominee roiled an already tumultuous campaign.
The assault signaled a decision to go fully on offense against Comey and confront the email issue and Republican attacks head on.
The congressional black and Hispanic caucuses organized a news conference to denounce Comey, at least three Democratic senators drafted a letter of complaint Saturday and the Democratic National Committee issued a tartly worded statement.
“By releasing a letter within sixty days of the presidential election, Comey broke with long-standing department tradition that is meant to prevent any influence on the electoral process,” the DNC statement said.
“The letter did not offer enough detail that would allow Americans a full understanding of the development and whether or not it is even significant, which has led to speculation on the part of the media and irresponsible claims by Republican leaders. The FBI must move quickly to release additional clarifying information.”
Polls had begun to tighten even before the FBI development, and it is unclear what effect it will have.
In his letter, Comey said, “The FBI should take appropriate investigative steps designed to allow investigators to review these emails to determine whether they contain classified information.” Comey said it is unknown if the information “may be significant.”
“In fact it’s not just strange, it’s unprecedented and it’s deeply troubling,” Clinton said Saturday. “We call on Director Comey to explain everything right away and put it all out on the table.”
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Jenna Johnson contributed to this report.