KENT, Ohio — Hillary Clinton sought Monday to redirect the focus of the presidential race to national security and Donald Trump’s fitness for office after days of damaging uncertainty over a renewed investigation into her email use when she was secretary of state.
The Democratic nominee addressed the email issue at the start of a speech about national security that marked a departure from her standard stump speech, as Democrats are reeling from news that FBI Director James B. Comey is revisiting his probe into the potential mishandling of classified material.
“I’m sure a lot of you may be asking what this new email story is about, and why in the world the FBI would decide to jump into an election with no evidence of wrongdoing,” less than two weeks before Election Day, Clinton said. “That’s a good question.”
“I understand. And as I’ve said, I’m not making any excuses,” for setting up her private email system as she did, Clinton said. “I’ve said it was a mistake and I regret it.”
She predicted that the new inquiry will reach the same conclusion as Comey did at the end of the FBI investigation in July, when he announced that despite what he called sloppiness, there was no evidence of criminal conduct.
“There is no case,” Clinton said, adding that she thinks most Americans have long since decided how they feel about the email issue. “Now, what people are focused on is choosing the next president and commander in chief of the United States of America.”
Campaigning earlier Monday in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Trump said Comey “brought back his reputation” with his notice to Congress on Friday that he would look at new information in the case.
‘It took a lot of guts” for Comey to change course three months after ending the probe into whether classified information was compromised, the Republican nominee said.
During her lengthy speech at Kent State University, Clinton returned to an argument that has been among her most potent: that Trump’s “very thin skin” and brash, ill-informed commentary on world affairs disqualifies him as commander in chief.
She asked the audience to consider three questions she said were among the most crucial in assessing a leader: Can the candidate be trusted to command the American nuclear arsenal? How does the candidate handle a crisis? and “Do you know the difference between our allies and our adversaries?”
“I’m running against a man who says he doesn’t understand why we can’t use nuclear weapons. He wants more countries to have nuclear weapons.” Clinton said. “And if you’re telling yourself he’s going to surround himself with smart people to stop these crazy ideas, remember this: He was asked who he consults on foreign policy. Donald Trump said he doesn’t need to consult because, and I quote, ‘I have a very good brain.’”
Turning to Trump’s relationship with Vladimir Putin, Clinton said the Russian president is playing Trump for a patsy.
“He knows he can use flattery to get into Donald’s head, to make Donald the Kremlin’s puppet, and it seems to be working. Donald has signaled to Putin that he will let Russia do whatever it wants,” she said.
Clinton also addressed the hacked emails of Democratic organizations and her campaign chairman, John Podesta, which intelligence officials have blamed on the Russians.
She also ran through a series of Trump remarks about the NATO alliance, U.S. nuclear umbrella in Asia and other topics that she said show him to be ignorant or reckless.
“This is one of those make-or-break moments for our nation,” she said.
Aside from changing the subject from emails, Clinton’s efforts in Ohio are part of a strategy to create several paths to an electoral college victory — the simplest of which would be to win Florida. Clinton spent the weekend campaigning in the Sunshine State, where some polls show Trump leading.
Comey reignited a political firestorm when he said FBI officials had detected a batch of emails pertinent to the earlier case during an “unrelated” investigation.
People close to the situation have told The Washington Post that the emails were found on a computer belonging to disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner, who is under investigation for allegedly exchanging lewd messages with a 15-year-old girl. Weiner is the estranged husband of Clinton campaign vice chairman Huma Abedin.
Abedin, who is very often the aide closest to Clinton’s side on trips, has been absent from the campaign plane since Friday, the day the Comey news broke.
Clinton’s campaign pushed back hard all weekend against Comey’s decision.
Democrats demanded swift answers about what Comey is looking for and why he chose to renew the inquiry less than two weeks before Election Day. Democratic senators asked for answers by the end of the day Monday.
Claiming momentum from the FBI news, Trump said Clinton has only herself to blame.
“Hillary is the one who sent and received classified information on an insecure server, putting the safety of the American people under threat,” Trump said. “Hillary is the one who lied to Congress under oath. Hillary is the one who lied on so many different occasions to the FBI.”
Clinton denies that her email put the country at risk, and her campaign says she testified truthfully.
As Trump’s audience laughed, he said , “Thank you, Huma! Thank you Huma! And thank you, Anthony Weiner.”
On Sunday night, the FBI obtained a warrant to review the emails, which one official said include a significant number of messages associated with Clinton and Abedin. In his letter to Congress, Comey said that whether the emails provide any new information to the Clinton investigation had yet to be determined, but Democrats worry that the news could sway the election.