A string of strong swing state polls, an expanding battleground map and the end of the presidential debates had Clinton — and her aides — feeling good about the final days of the campaign. The normally careful candidate was dancing on television, celebrating her birthday with gifts of tequila and seemingly having fun during a campaign that, at times, seemed to be a slog for her.
Then her nagging email controversy roared back.
News broke on the flight between New York and Iowa that the FBI was reviewing new emails related to Clinton’s personal server, bringing an issue they had assumed was behind them back into the campaign.
Later in the day, those same aides learned the emails being examined are part of an investigation into Weiner, the estranged husband of Clinton’s longtime aide Huma Abedin. The two separated over the summer after a sexting incident.
Clinton’s flying campaign headquarters, though, kept the nominee, her top aides and the press cordoned off from the outside world. The plane’s unreliable WiFi wasn’t functioning at all on Friday, making it impossible for journalists to know what was going on outside their tube in the sky 30,000 feet over the Midwest.
Before the news broke, Clinton’s top aides spoke to reporters in flight, touting the fact that their candidate planned to visit Arizona, a traditionally red state, and early voting that proved their base of women, minority and young voters were turning out in record numbers.
After reporters peppered the aides with questions, the conversation ended and reporters went to write their stories about a confident Clinton going to Arizona.
Then the wireless flashed on for a mere minute and phones buzzed.
Reporters informed Clinton’s top aides traveling on the plane about the FBI’s updated investigation, news that was met with dumbfounded looks from Clinton’s staffers who quickly retreated to huddle in the front of the plane.
Clinton and her top campaign aides had no advance warning that the FBI would be issuing its letter to Congress, an aide said at the end of the day, meaning the Democratic nominee learned of Weiner’s involvement the way everyone else did.
Weiner has been a pariah in Clinton’s world since he was forced to resign from Congress because he sexted multiple women while he was married to Clinton’s closest aide. The same sexting compulsion continued throughout Weiner’s failed New York mayoral race, and after years of trying to make their relationship work, Abedin and Weiner split.
The fact that Weiner has now been connected to Clinton’s email controversy shocked those close to Clinton and the scene on the plane was unlike any other day Clinton’s charter has criss-crossed the country.
When Clinton’s plane touched down in Iowa, a state that has been an albatross around Clinton’s neck for almost a decade, reporters quickly exited so they could attempt to shout questions at Clinton as she deplaned.
Except the Democratic nominee decided to stay put.
Celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz, who has been traveling with the campaign for days, was invited to the front of the cabin to snap pictures of Clinton upon landing, likely the same time Clinton’s aides were getting the full picture of what had just been dropped on their campaign.
Betsy Ebeling, Clinton’s childhood friend, joined Clinton on the campaign trail Friday, seemingly sitting with Clinton as she learned about the news.
Clinton deplaned around 30 minutes after her plane touched down in Iowa, greeting shouted questions with a simple wave and smile.
Clinton didn’t mention the FBI investigation at her first event of the day in Cedar Rapids, instead focusing on Donald Trump’s treatment of women.
“This is a man who relished making women feel terrible about themselves, in every possible way,” Clinton said. “Someone who thinks belittling and objectifying women make him a bigger man. He goes after dignity and self worth of women and I don’t think there is a woman anywhere who doesn’t know what that feels like.”
Outside the event, a protester attempted to disrupt Clinton.
“Hillary Clinton broke the law,” he yelled, barely loud enough to be heard.
Clinton wrapped up speech and she was off, headed back to the airport.
As the motorcade rolled to the steps leading to her cabin, Clinton quickly exited and bolted up the steps, back to the confines of her same wireless-less plane cabin.
Reporters on the plane, anxious for any developments, jittered at the mere site of a Clinton aide headed toward the press, and when Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton’s spokeswoman, walked toward the back of the plane, the press cabin jerked with energy.
It was a false alarm. Palmieri was just grabbing a piece of apple pie and vanilla ice cream.
Clinton again declined to mention the story in Des Moines, but nodded to the way this presidential race has never ceased to surprise.
“We have got to keep our foot on the gas. Donald Trump says he can still win and he is right,” Clinton told supporters. “You know this has been such an unusual election. I don’t take any place, anyone or anything for granted.”
The choir room presser
Clinton, though, wasn’t done with her crazy day.
As reporters packed up to make their way back to the bus in Des Moines, a Clinton advance staffer urged people to stay put.
Minutes later, the same staffer announced that the traveling press should head out and the reporters wearily made their way to the bus.
At the last minute, though, the staffer directed the press to a side door and into a choir room at Theodore Roosevelt High School.
Five minutes later, Clinton was standing before steamed American flags with dozens of band and choir trophies in her line of sight.
“We are 11 days out from perhaps the most important national election of our lifetimes. Voting is already underway in our country,” Clinton said. “So the American people deserve to get the full and complete facts immediately.”
Clinton said that no one from her campaign has talked to the FBI, but she implored the bureau to release all the info it could.
As for Weiner’s connection, Clinton chalked them up to “rumors.”
“We don’t know what to believe. And I’m sure there will be even more rumors,” Clinton said. “That’s why it is incumbent upon the FBI to tell us what they’re talking about.”
After her press secretary shouted “thank you all,” Clinton was ushered out, laughing at the suggestion that the controversy could sink her campaign.
Reporters ran to the already idling bus, shoving bags and gear into any open seat.
After almost losing Clinton’s motorcade, the coach rolled away from the high school with its horn blaring, signaling an end to one of the campaign’s most unpredictable days.