DAYTONA BEACH — With just days to go until the election, a fiercely defiant Hillary Clinton demanded answers Saturday about what she suggested is a politically motivated renewal of a previously shuttered inquiry into her use of a private email server at the State Department.
As her campaign scrambled Saturday to respond to FBI director James Comey's decision to notify Congress about renewing the email investigation, Clinton and her top aides characterized the action as inappropriate and irresponsible.
"It's pretty strange to put something like that out with such little information right before an election," Clinton said as a supportive crowd cheered her on and booed when she referred to Comey. "In fact, it's not just strange. It's unprecedented and it's deeply troubling."
Clinton's Republican rival, Donald Trump, seized on Comey's letter in an apparent effort to shift focus from his own controversies and score a last-minute surge.
The Democratic nominee's strongly worded response to the new inquiry signaled a decision to go fully on offense against Comey and confront the email issue and Republican attacks head-on. It signaled clearly the havoc wrought by Comey's announcement — and Democrats' strategy to head off game-changing political damage from a development that had left them sputtering both inside and outside the campaign.
On Saturday morning, the campaign hastily arranged a telephone briefing with Clinton's top two aides — campaign chairman John Podesta and campaign manager Robby Mook. In addition to the unusual firepower — Podesta does not brief the press regularly — the campaign provided a transcript after the fact, the better to reap any benefit from Podesta's strong language.
Podesta, a longtime Clinton family confidant, sounded agitated and angry during the call with reporters as he described Comey's surprise announcement Friday as "long on innuendo and short on facts," allowing Republicans to "distort and exaggerate" its message. Podesta also sent a strongly worded letter to supporters.
In her appearance Saturday, Clinton stopped just short of accusing Comey, once a registered Republican, of partisan interference in the Nov. 8 election. But she did not attempt to conceal her anger.
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.
On Saturday afternoon, the Clinton campaign sent an email with urgent talking points for its high-level surrogates about Comey's "controversial action."
Among them was to demand that Comey "immediately provide the American people with more information."
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 sharply worded statement.
Of chief concern to Democrats now is whether the development, and the uncertainty surrounding it, will cause supporters to disengage or stay home. Meanwhile, the development has been a political gift to Trump, who drew huge applause Saturday when he called Clinton corrupt and untrustworthy.
Trump said he thinks that some of the thousands of emails that Clinton deleted "were captured yesterday," even though officials do not yet know what is in the emails. He also suggested, without evidence, that there was "a revolt" in the FBI that led to the letter being sent on Friday.
Trump devoted most of a noontime rally in Golden, Colo., on Saturday to telling his supporters about the FBI letter and detailing the controversy.
"As you have heard, it was just announced yesterday that the FBI is reopening their investigation in the criminal and illegal conduct of Hillary Clinton," Trump said about 10 minutes into the rally. He then walked away from his lectern and applauded the news along with his supporters, who began chanting: "Lock her up! Lock her up!"
"This is the biggest political scandal since Watergate, and it's everybody's deepest hope that justice, at last, can be properly delivered," Trump said to more cheers. "Hillary has nobody to blame but herself for her mounting legal troubles. Her criminal action was willful, deliberate, intentional and purposeful."
While Trump has repeatedly claimed that Clinton's use of a private email server while secretary of state was illegal, Comey earlier this year said the FBI found nothing that would lead to a criminal charge.
Comey's letter, sent to eight congressional committee chairmen and ranking Democrats on Friday, states that "the FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation" into the potential mishandling of classified information when Clinton was secretary of state.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, two people familiar with the matter told the Washington Post that the newly discovered emails were found on a computer seized during an investigation of former Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y. Weiner is separated from his wife, top Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
The initial inquiry ended in July without criminal charges, which Clinton's campaign hoped would sweep away some of the cloud of suspicion around the candidate over her decision to use a private communication system for her government work.
Voters continue to tell pollsters they disapprove of her handling of the email issue, with many doubting that she has been fully truthful. But until now, the email issue seemed to be receding, and Clinton had sounded increasingly confident as she maintained a lead in most national polls over the past several weeks.
Polls had begun to tighten even before the FBI development, and it is unclear what effect it will have.
Clinton appeared at several events Saturday, including a late-afternoon rally in Daytona Beach. In the city, she stopped by a tailgate party at a Bethune-Cookman University football game and urged the crowd to vote. She then headed over to the field to pose for photos with the team.
Clinton appeared at an evening concert in Miami featuring pop superstar Jennifer Lopez, part of a series the Clinton campaign is staging in battleground states aimed at driving up turnout among different segments of the electorate, including Latinos.