During a phone call with donors on Saturday, Hillary Clinton said FBI Director James Comey was to blame for her loss to Donald Trump.
Speaking with donors who had raised over $100,000 for her presidential bid, Clinton said that her campaign was irreperably damaged by the two letters sent to Congress by Comey—the first, announcing that the FBI had found, but had yet to read new emails relating to their investigation of Clinton's private server; and the second, which came a week later and said that, gee, nothing to see here, those were just duplicates personal emails and nothing has changed.
According to Politico, Clinton told her donors that the second letter, which was sent just three days before the election, did more damage than the first. After the first letter was sent, her numbers took a serious hit but rebounded—but the second letter, which once again exonerated her, convinced some Trump supporters that their candidate's allegations of corruption and a rigged election were true.
"There are lots of reasons why an election like this is not successful," Clinton said, according to one of her donors who relayed her comments to the New York Times. "Our analysis is that Comey’s letter raising doubts that were groundless, baseless, proven to be, stopped our momentum.”
An internal campaign memo with polling data obtained by the Times says that "there is no question that a week from Election Day, Secretary Clinton was poised for a historic win," but that "late-breaking developments in the race"—i.e., Comey's intervention—proved one hurdle too many for us to overcome.
Senior Justice Department officials reportedly tried to stop Comey from telling Congress about new developments in the investigation, arguing that it was a violation of department policy regarding commenting on ongoing investigations and would make him appear to be meddling in the election. Comey himself told staffers, in an internal letter, that he was worried about creating "a misleading impression" but that he believed his initial letter was necessary.
Nearly 100 former federal prosecutors, including Attorney General Eric Holder, penned an open letter to Comey in the aftermath of the first letter, calling his actions "inconsistent with prevailing Department policy."
Moreover, setting aside whether Director Comey's original statements in July were warranted, by failing to responsibly supplement the public record with any substantive, explanatory information, his letter begs the question that further commentary was necessary.
"We felt so good about where we were," Clinton told donors. "We just had a real wind at our back" before Comey's first letter co Congress.
"We lost with college-educated whites after leading with them all summer," Clinton spokesperson Brian Fallon told the Times. "Five more days of reminders about Comey, and they gravitated back to Trump."
Although many top Clinton donors acknowledge the devastating effect Comey's letters had on her campaign, some are also reportedly bitter that the Clinton campaign isn't taking more personal responsibility for their loss. An internal memo from April 2015 shows that Clinton strategists proposed intentionally cultivating extreme right-wing candidates like Trump and Ted Cruz, hoping to turn them into the new "mainstream wing of the Republican Party" in order to increase Clinton's appeal to moderate Republicans. This strategy clearly backfired.
The Clinton campaign relied heavily on celebrity endorsements to drive young voters to the polls, and its Latino outreach strategy largely hinged on hoping that the "Trump effect" would affect voters instead of canvassing, door-knocking, or television ads.
Democrats hardly ran ads in Wisconsin and Michigan, two states Clinton lost, and neglected the Rust Belt voters that flocked to Trump. Much of the campaign's strategy was based on erroneous data that suggested that young, black, Latino, and women voters would turn out for Clinton in higher numbers than they did.