Republicans look to seize on revived Clinton email issue in White House, Congress races

November 1, 2016 12:57 PM EDT

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) leaves after his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 22, 2016. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas


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By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans are seizing on the FBI's revived scrutiny of Hillary Clinton's handling of government emails, hoping it will hurt not just her presidential hopes but Democrats' chances of regaining one or both chambers of Congress in next week's election.

Republican lawmakers are threatening to investigate Clinton from her first day in office if the Democrat is elected president on Nov. 8, following the FBI's move to review newly discovered emails that might pertain to a previously completed investigation into Clinton's use of a private server while she was secretary of state.

After FBI Director James Comey's announcement last Friday of the latest review, which indicated no wrongdoing on Clinton's part, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and other Republicans have hammered Clinton as scandal-prone, seeking to renew questions about her integrity.

A Clinton presidency would bog down in "scandal baggage," U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said on Tuesday, adding he was focused on defending Republican majorities in Congress in the election.

"This is what life with the Clintons looks like. It's always a scandal one after another, then there's an investigation," Ryan, the most senior elected Republican in the country, told Fox News in an interview. "You never know what's coming next."

Saying that Clinton would take office "with her scandal baggage," Ryan added: "I don’t think that’s what the American people want to see.”

Clinton has said she is confident the FBI will not find anything problematic and will reach the same conclusion it did in July when it found no grounds for charges from her use of a private email server.

Opinion polls show Clinton maintaining her lead over Trump, although her advantage has narrowed slightly since early last week. The effect of Comey's news on voters' support is not yet clear.

The University of Virginia's Center for Politics said this week that several key states, including Arizona, Florida and Ohio, were now considered "toss up," having earlier been classified as leaning Democratic, saying the races had been tightening regardless of any "Comey Effect."

"If Comey’s decision results in Republicans holding onto the Senate and losing fewer House seats because he has invigorated their 'checks and balances' argument, we will also attribute this to the Comey Effect," the center's Larry Sabato and his colleagues wrote.

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'SAVING HOUSE MAJORITY'

Ryan maintained the arms-length posture toward Trump that he adopted after a 2005 video emerged last month in which the New York businessman was heard boasting about groping women.

The Wisconsin Republican said he voted for Trump in early voting last week, but that his position had not changed and that he had no plans to campaign with his party's nominee, instead focusing on maintaining Republicans' control of the House.

"My focus personally right now is saving our House majority. I’m going to Indiana, Michigan, New York and Virginia today to fight for House Republicans," Ryan told Fox.

While Republicans appear poised to keep control of the House, the race for the Senate remains evenly matched, according to an average of polls by RealClearPolitics.

Some conservative members of the Republican caucus in the House, unhappy with Ryan's treatment of Trump and his handling of other issues on Capitol Hill, have questioned whether he should continue as speaker after the election.

"We're all focused on beating Democrats on Nov. 8. All the rest of this stuff will sort itself out," Ryan told Fox News. "I'm very confident where I stand with our members."

Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn called on Tuesday for Attorney General Loretta Lynch, a Barack Obama appointee, to intervene over the Clinton email probe. "AG Lynch has authority to unravel Clinton email mess by appointing a special counsel who can convene an impartial grand jury," Cornyn wrote on Twitter.

Such a move would all but guarantee that controversy over Clinton's emails would simmer into 2017 and perhaps beyond, potentially tying up her agenda if she were elected to the White House. Some Republican senators have already also vowed to block any hearing on Clinton's potential Supreme Court justice nominees to fill the court's current vacancy.

Republican House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz told the Washington Post last week he had years' worth of potential material that could be used to investigate Clinton.

California Republican Darrell Issa, a House Judiciary Committee member, told Fox Business Network late on Monday: "I suspect there will be more hearings" following the latest email probe.

(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Peter Cooney)



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