In a telephone call to her campaign donors, Hillary Clinton has blamed FBI Director James Comey for her defeat in the U.S. presidential election, saying his reopening of a probe into her use of a private email server broke the momentum of her campaign.
Nearly every national opinion poll showed Democrat Clinton leading Republican challenger Donald Trump in the weeks leading up to Tuesday's election, but he scored surprising wins across the country when vote counting began, and claimed victory less than 12 hours after most polls closed.
Clinton told donors Saturday that a review of national opinion polls showed Comey's letter to Congress about new email discoveries, made public just 11 days before the election, was a bombshell development that proved too much to "overcome."
Three people who took part in Clinton's telephonic conference recounted her analysis of the election outcome, the Reuters news agency reported.
First detailed Clinton comment
Clinton's conversation with her supporters Saturday was the first time she has discussed in detail the outcome of her unsuccessful campaign. She has kept a low profile since conceding the election to Trump in a speech to her supporters and staff in New York City on Wednesday morning.
Comey said in a letter to lawmakers on October 28 that he was revisiting an investigation into whether Clinton mishandled classified information by using a private email server instead of government computers while she was secretary of state from 2009 to 2012. The new investigation, Comey said, was necessary because his agents had discovered additional emails that could be relevant to the case.
He was referring to the FBI's accidental discovery of 650,000 Clinton emails during an unconnected investigation into potentially criminal activities by the now-estranged husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin. The emails were on a laptop computer used by both Abedin and her husband, former Congressman Anthony Weiner.
Critics denounce Comey's timing
Comey's letter to congressional leaders contained few details about the newly discovered emails, which heightened media speculation. Sources with knowledge about the case suggested the emails were mostly or entirely copies of documents that the FBI had already reviewed, but Comey's highly unusual and cryptic announcement threw the final week of the presidential campaign into turmoil.
Clinton's defenders assailed the FBI director for disrupting the campaign by making his unexpected announcement without providing further information. A fuller disclosure, they said, would have exonerated the former secretary of state from any suggestion that she acted improperly.
Clinton's opponents seized on the late-breaking FBI announcement and declared once again that they believed this could be evidence incriminating her. However, even some prominent members of the Republican Party rebuked Comey for inappropriately intruding into the presidential campaign and acting more like a prosecutor than an investigator.
Clinton cleared, but damage done
Nine days after disclosing his letter to Congress, Comey spoke out again, saying that his agents' intensive study of the new emails showed no wrongdoing by Clinton, and thus there would be no change in his announcement more than three months earlier that she would not face any charges in connection with her handling of official email.
However, the political damage appeared to have been done.
Even though she was absolved of blame, Clinton said, the FBI director's remarks eroded her support in the upper Midwest, in states such as Wisconsin and Michigan, which often are called a "blue wall" of support for Democratic presidential candidates.
A spokesperson for the FBI could not immediately be reached for comment, Reuters reported.
Trump's unexpected victory in both Wisconsin and Michigan on Tuesday was a key part of his stunning defeat of Clinton, which shocked the nation and has since led to a series of anti-Trump protests by young activists in many cities.