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The FBI, the 2016 Election and the Confidence Deficit

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: FBI Director James Comey Testifies To House Judiciary On Oversight At The F.B.I.
FBI Director James Comey testifies before the House Judiciary Committee Sept. 28, in Washington, DC. Comey testified on a variety of subjects including the investigation into former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's email server.Win McNamee / Getty Images

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

Another American institution takes a hit

A week out from Election Day, here’s the only thing we’re sure of after Friday’s bombshell political news that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is one again looking at Hillary Clinton’s emails: Another U.S. institution -- the FBI -- has taken a hit. (It’s especially true after all of the obvious leaks coming from the FBI and Justice Department.) And that news isn’t good for the country’s democracy. Back in 2014, our national NBC/WSJ poll looked at Americans’ confidence in 15 different institutions and industries, and majority had confidence in just two of them.

So this lack of confidence in American institutions was taking place BEFORE this presidential election, and you can only imagine what the situation is going to look like afterwards. As for Comey and his decision to make his announcement 11 days before an election, we understand he was in a lose-lose situation. (If he withheld this information before the election, it could have been equally damaging.) But the problem was how vague Comey’s letter to Congress was, as well as the fact that it was sent before the FBI even had access to the emails. It’s hard to reconcile Comey being so transparent with a July press conference and then testimony to Capitol Hill -- over a matter where there were no charges -- and then so opaque in a letter to Congress just days before the election.

Team Trump deals with its share of negative stories

While the Clinton campaign is still dealing with the fallout from Friday’s news, Halloween night saw several tough stories aimed at Team Trump. There was the New York Times report on new tax documents showing Trump “used a legally dubious method” to avoid paying taxes; NBC News reported that the FBI “has been conducting a preliminary inquiry into Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort's foreign business connections”; and Mother Jones reported that a veteran spy gave the FBI information alleging a Russian operation to cultivate ties to Trump.

Trump and Pence to give health-care speech

Today in Pennsylvania, meanwhile, Trump and running mate Mike Pence will deliver a policy speech to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. It’s a smart move for the Trump camp to focus on policy when everyone is paying attention. A Trump aide previews the speech to NBC's Peter Alexander: “The speech will be delivered along with several of those congressional leaders who the Trump Administration will work with to immediately repeal and replace it. What's even more powerful is that we'll have Gov. Pence there to address how he has successfully navigated Indiana through this mess and created a model for other states to follow.”

Clinton’s lead remains steady after Comey’s bombshell, per NBC|SurveyMonkey tracking poll

This week’s NBC|SurveyMonkey tracking poll has Clinton ahead by 6 points over Trump in the four-way horserace, 47%-41% -- which is exactly where it was last week. Moreover, that six-point 47%-41% lead was identical in interviews before the Comey news (Monday through Friday) and after (Saturday and Sunday). More from the poll: “Likely voters were split on whether they thought the controversial announcement by the FBI was an important issue to discuss or more of a distraction to the campaign. A slight majority of likely voters nationwide—55 percent—said it was an important issue. Forty-four percent said the news was more of a distraction to the campaign.” Now the national Washington Post/ABC tracking poll has Trump up a point, though that’s in contrast to the other tracking polls we’ve seen after the Comey news.

Did the Comey Surprise hurt Democrats’ downballot chances?

The Comey Surprise might not have hurt Hillary Clinton’s presidential chances. But it might have hurt downballot Democrats, who were counting on a large Clinton margin over Trump. “While FBI Director James Comey's email bombshell is unlikely to dent her White House chances, Democrats fear it might shorten her coattails and threaten their prospects of retaking the Senate,” NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald writes. “‘It's certainly not helpful,’ said Missouri Democratic Party Chairman Roy Temple. ‘It kind of pollutes the Democratic brand in a way that's unnecessary, simply because it doesn't actually involve any new information, which is why the frustration at Comey is so high right now.’” More: “‘The slightest breeze in any direction can really push these races one way or another,’ said Ian Prior of the Senate Leadership Fund, a deep-pocketed GOP Super PAC. ‘All you need is need is .01 (percent) in a [close race].’” By the way, a Monmouth poll from yesterday showed a tied race in Indiana’s Senate race, which isn’t good news for Democrats’ bid to retake the Senate.

Burr says gun owners may want to put a “bullseye” on Clinton

But this story won’t help Republicans in the key North Carolina Senate race. CNN: “Sen. Richard Burr privately mused over the weekend that gun owners may want to put a ‘bullseye’ on Hillary Clinton… The North Carolina Republican, locked in a tight race for reelection, quipped that as he walked into a gun shop ‘nothing made me feel better’ than seeing a magazine about rifles ‘with a picture of Hillary Clinton on the front of it.’” Burr apologized. “The comment I made was inappropriate, and I apologize for it. But the audio CNN obtained also contained this other sound from Burr, in which he said he’d work to keep Clinton from filling the vacant Supreme Court seat. “[I]f Hillary Clinton becomes president, I am going to do everything I can do to make sure four years from now, we still got an opening on the Supreme Court."

First Read’s downballot race of the day: Ohio Senate

In a swing state during what’s shaping up to be a tough year for many Republicans, GOP Sen. Rob Portman has executed a model campaign against Democratic former governor Ted Strickland. He’s been a strong fundraiser and energetic campaigner who built an impressive independent GOTV effort that’s targeting possible split-ticket voters rather than just a Republican base. Strickland has committed his fair share of unforced errors, including his August declaration that the death of Justice Antonin Scalia “happened at a good time.”

On the trail

Hillary Clinton spends her day in Florida, hitting Dade City at 3:00 pm ET, Sanford at 6:15 pm ET, and Ft. Lauderdale at 8:45 pm ET… Donald Trump makes stops in King of Prussia, PA at 11:00 am ET and Eau Claire, WI at 8:00 pm ET… Mike Pence stumps in Pennsylvania… Tim Kaine is in Wisconsin… President Obama campaigns in Columbus, OH at 4:30 pm ET… Joe Biden is in North Carolina… Bernie Sanders campaigns in New Hampshire and Maine… And Bill Clinton has three events in Florida.

Countdown to Election Day: 7 days