“I was on the way to winning until a combination of Jim Comey’s letter, on October 28th, and Russian WikiLeaks raised doubts in the minds of people who were inclined to vote for me but got scared off. And the evidence for that intervening event is, I think, compelling, persuasive, and so we overcame a lot in the campaign, we overcame an enormous barrage of negativity, of false equivalency and so much else, but as Nate Silver, who doesn’t work for me, he’s an independent analyst, but one considered to be very reliable, has concluded: If the election had been on October 27th, I’d be your president.”
On May 2, 2017, Hillary Clinton sat down for a conversation with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour at a Women for Women International event in New York. Nearly six months out from Election Day, Clinton said she took “absolute personal responsibility” for its outcome – but her remarks strayed from there. In a now famous riff, Clinton paraphrased a tweet from FiveThirtyEight.com’s Nate Silver, who said former FBI Director Jim Comey’s letter to Congress, delivered 11 days before the vote, shaved off a fateful sliver of her support, enough to ultimately deliver the presidency to Donald Trump.
In a brisk note, Comey told lawmakers that the FBI had “learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation” of Clinton’s personal server – the same probe Comey had said over the summer was effectively over. The bureau, he added now, “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.”
Meting out blame (or claiming credit) for Clinton’s loss has become a full-time concern for countless interested parties across the political spectrum. Few if any, Clinton included, would suggest any single factor tipped the race – one she seemed sure to win for long stretches of the summer – in Trump’s favor. Clinton too has cited an assortment of damaging variables, from the foul headwinds of white grievance to bad journalism. Her book, “What Happened,” points fingers just about everywhere, including at herself.
But even in such a weird and unpredictable campaign, Friday, October 28 – just three weeks after the “Access Hollywood” tape dropped – was uniquely gonzo. By the time it was over, with Clinton back in New York ahead of a Saturday trip to stump in Florida, the tone was changed, and the contest was back in doubt.
What follows is a look back at that fateful Friday, as it unfolded on social media.
10:57 p.m. ET, October 27: Clinton and first lady Michelle Obama embrace in North Carolina.
7:20 a.m. ET, October 28: The campaign is an afterthought in the NYC tabloids.
8:13 a.m. ET: A new poll shows Clinton slipping …
8:15 a.m. ET: …but she’s still favored, as multiple outlets speculate about the Clinton Cabinet.
9:02 a.m. ET: Former Republican Rep. Joe Walsh chats about his post-election plans.
The tweet in question here:
10:03 a.m. ET: Another allegation against Trump.
10:39 a.m. ET: The Clinton press corps gathers.
10:53 a.m. ET: The Clinton campaign posts video of the Obamas and Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders campaigning for her.
11:06 a.m. ET: Fox News questions whether the FBI was thorough enough with Clinton.
12:35 & 12:41 p.m. ET: The Clinton campaign talks up trip to Arizona.
12:57 p.m. ET: Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz tweets about what he’s just been “informed.”
1:00 p.m. ET: Kellyanne Conway touts coverage of new WikiLeaks disclosures.
1:04 p.m.: Trump heads north.
1:04 p.m.: The Comey letter lands (while Clinton flies).
1:07 p.m. ET: Breitbart celebrates the Chaffetz tweet.
1:11 p.m. ET: CNN’s Wolf Blitzer throws to justice correspondent Evan Perez with the breaking news
The scene inside Clinton’s campaign plane
As he was just about every day for more than a year, CNN’s Dan Merica was traveling with Clinton October 28. Here he recalls how the Clinton press corps – and the campaign itself – got the news:
“I remember getting to the airport and there being a buzz in the air among her campaign staffers. They had read a series of strong swing state polls and there was talk of expanding the battleground map. A lot, they felt, was going their way as Election Day closed in.
But most notable to me was how Clinton looked like she was finally having fun on the campaign trail – a rarity. She was dancing on TV, celebrating her birthday with tequila and engaging more.
All of that was blunted, though, when reporters seated in the back of Clinton’s campaign plane got wind that the FBI was reviewing new emails related to Clinton’s personal server.
The wifi on the campaign plane was awful. It made commercial air travel wifi feel like Google Fiber. But as the plane cruised at 30,000 feet to Iowa, the Los Angeles Times’ Chris Megerian somehow – miraculously – got his wifi to work and read the Comey letter.
Megerian and other members of the press were the first to inform Nick Merrill, Clinton’s traveling press secretary, about the reopened investigation. Clinton and her top campaign aides had no advance warning that the FBI would be issuing its letter to Congress.
Shocked, Merrill made his way to the front of the plane, where Clinton’s top campaign staffers – including top aide Huma Abedin – consumed the news and decided what to do.
Later in the day, those same aides learned the emails being examined were part of an investigation into former Rep. Anthony Weiner, Abedin’s estranged husband.
The most remarkable moment of the day, though, was a last-minute press conference Clinton’s staff planned at Theodore Roosevelt High School. As the traveling press made their way to the bus, a staffer told everyone to head another way. That was how the press conference – which ended up being in a choir room – was announced.
’We don’t know what to believe. And I’m sure there will be even more rumors,’ Clinton said. ‘That’s why it is incumbent upon the FBI to tell us what they’re talking about.’
After an upbeat morning and talk of expanding the map, the Clinton campaign’s mood was dramatically different. It was almost like they knew that was going to be the day that did them in.”
1:27 p.m. ET: Conway celebrates the news.
1:28 p.m. ET: House Speaker Paul Ryan piles on.
From around 1:40 p.m. ET: Clinton lands in Iowa; reporters wait.
1:52 p.m. ET: Trump weighs in from the trail.
Good to know your audience:
2:14 p.m. ET: A break – and a question – about the “new” FBI emails.
2:15 p.m. ET: But would you have blamed him?
2:28 p.m. ET: Twitter starts sniffing around.
2:31 p.m. ET: Despite the news, this number wouldn’t change much.
2:49 p.m. ET: Mike Pence wants more info from the FBI.
2:50 p.m. ET: State of play.
Around 3:00: p.m. ET: Trump applauds the FBI’s “courage” at New Hampshire rally; Clinton mum on FBI.
3:20 p.m. ET: Anthony. Weiner.
3:44 p.m. ET: Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta responds.
4:05 p.m. ET: The Weiner angle develops.
4:29 p.m. ET: At least a couple of Trump supporters are… suspicious.
4:45 p.m. ET: The long debate begins.
5:00 p.m. ET: Programming note – Clinton does an ad buy in … Wisconsin.
Around 5:00 p.m. ET: Clinton arrives in Des Moines; Trump is talking in Maine.
5:34 p.m. ET: The Clinton campaign bites back.
6:22 p.m. ET: Right wing media perks up.
Around 7:00 p.m. ET: Clinton talks to reporters in Des Moines.
7:05 p.m. ET: Clinton on what’s to come.
Clinton was correct. On Sunday, November 6, Comey would – once again – tell lawmakers that it wouldn’t recommend charges against Clinton.
7:44 p.m. ET: Crowds await Trump in Cedar Rapids.