US presidential elections 2016: Last-minute twists have caused upsets in the past

NBC News had in fact forewarned on July 27, 2016 itself that Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning elections could be sunk due to an “October Surprise”.

Written by Vappala Balachandran | Updated: November 8, 2016 11:43 am
US presidential elections 2016, us elections, hillary clinton leading, donald trump, hillary clinton, clinton vs trump, news, latest news, world news, us elections leading party, international news, us news US presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. (Source: Reuters)

US presidential candidates are always worried about “October Surprises” causing upsets in their campaigns. On October 28, FBI director James Comey caused the first surprise by conveying to the US Congress that emails “pertinent to the closed investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server were discovered on a computer belonging to Anthony D. Weiner, the estranged husband of a top Clinton aide”. However, he added that the said emails had surfaced in an unrelated case, which was an FBI investigation into illicit text messages from Weiner to a 15-year- old girl in North Carolina. He also conveyed that the FBI would review the mails “to determine if they improperly contained classified information”.

Comey’s letter gave an immediate boost to the Trump campaign, which had sagged due to allegations of his sexual deviations. There were calls to arrest Hillary Clinton. Reince Priebus, Republican committee chairman, said that FBI’s decision to reopen the case 11 days before the election “shows how serious this discovery must be”. He called for her disqualification from the elections. Faced with this, Hillary Clinton issued a strong message to Comey to release “all the information that it has”. Even President Obama, who never gives his opinion on FBI cases, came out with a statement that opinions should be based on facts and not on innuendos.

NBC News had in fact forewarned on July 27, 2016 itself that Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning elections could be sunk due to an “October Surprise”. It feared that Russian spy agencies that had broken into the deleted Clinton emails might reveal something adverse against her to cause a surprise just prior to the elections. That was the time when Julian Assange had already leaked 19,000 Clinton emails. Democrats had then hired a cyber security firm which found that two Russian security agencies were accessing Democrat National Committee servers. One Russian agency had even hacked into the joint chiefs of staff and other important US agencies.

On November 6, 2016, Comey caused a second surprise by conveying to the Congress that the agency had worked “around the clock” to complete its review of newly discovered emails and found no reason to change its July finding. In effect it meant that the Bureau stood by its earlier recommendation that no criminal charges were warranted against Hillary Clinton for using a private email server for government work. US media announced that the Dow Jones Industrial Average futures and the Mexican Peso had surged in apparent response to Comey’s announcement. Trump, who had earlier praised FBI for being “thorough” in investigation, challenged its ability to review the newly discovered emails so quickly and alleged that Hillary Clinton was being protected by a “rigged system”. He asked Americans to “deliver justice at the ballot box on November 8”.

US politicians are always worried about such last minute surprises, which in 1968 had totally overturned the final result. Hubert Humphrey, sitting vice president, was then the Democratic party’s presidential candidate. He was facing Richard Nixon who wanted to take advantage of President Lyndon Johnson’s unpopular Vietnam War. To Nixon’s disappointment, Johnson started reversing American offensive by announcing partial bomb halts. This paved way for the Paris Peace Talks from May 1968 with North Vietnamese participation. On October 9, North Vietnamese allowed South Vietnam’s participation in peace talks. A peace deal was about to be achieved, which would have favoured Humphrey during the elections on November 5, 1968.

All of a sudden, South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu went cold and withdrew from the talks. Nixon was keeping tabs on the White House to sabotage any successful outcome. Bryce Harlow, who was Nixon’s speech writer, said later that a double agent in Johnson’s White House was leaking information. William Bundy, former CIA analyst, recalled that intercepted cable traffic from Saigon had revealed the Republican Party urging President Thieu through Anna Chennault, a well-known socialite anti-communist, that Nixon would offer a better deal than Hubert Humphrey.

This was confirmed by Tim Weiner, author of Enemies: A History of the FBI. He says the FBI had noticed Anna Hainault’s “Lincoln Continental” going frequently to Vietnamese embassy and 1701, Pennsylvania Avenue, Nixon’s campaign office. Bundy says that Johnson confronted Nixon on November 3 about Chennault’s activities. Nixon denied any role in President Thieu’s stand. Finally, he won the elections with a narrow margin.

(This article first appeared in the print edition under the headline ‘The October Surprise’)

The writer is a former special secretary, Cabinet Secretariat

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  1. K
    Nov 8, 2016 at 2:10 pm
    The last minute FBI giving ' clean chit' to hilary. Clinton may save her from the jaws of defeat as her coming clean email issue may become a set back for Trump
  2. A
    Nov 8, 2016 at 12:37 am
    This Election is a big confusion for;br/gt;The wisdom of Democratic and Republican parties will be questionable for nominating such controversial candidates for the top;br/gt;The 3 presidential debates looked not done justice as these debates perhaps not adhered to the Mission Statement of the Commission on Presidential Debate(CPD),which probably does not allow personal criticism in the debates. Voters did not get enough time to hear the views of the presidential candidates on the major problems and policies. Voters mostly got negative news about the presidential candidates which left voters in utter confusion to judge the true merits of the candidates. Even today ( just about 12 hours from voting time to start) many voters probably are uncertain whom to vote and why. It appears that, even after the election, many issues shall keep bothering the voters. The systems of USA; in nominatinating presidential candidates, Conducting Presidential debates, and even the criteria of selecting the winner based on votes, need serious review to avoid such great confusion in future."
  3. D
    David Ruza
    Nov 8, 2016 at 2:14 pm
    TRUMP´S mouth and hard position Stinks due to a paranoid and twisted mind based on hate and xenophobic behave/our against minorities and immigrants being immigrants himself and his wife, but not only that, they both have a bad record behind, ever the less, it might be time that US people and the w world shake and suffer as ever before, but this time, the real enemy won’t be just overseas, because the real enemy TRUMP is conceiving and firing up with heath is already, by millions, living since ever in todays’ US soil and neighbor US of Mexico and Latin America land where millions of US Citizens live, have their multimillion dollars interests, factories and business, and not only that, if something goes wrong, wish it’s all/ready happening in millions of minds, hearths’ and souls, not only on Latinos, but African Americans, and many other skin colored minorities, and of course, in the middle of all this mess are on the open looking for an opportunity: Russia, China, North Korea, Saudi ArabiaIranISIS, and the real looser will be the US and their Allied Countries that will withdraw their support to unified forces to cover up their main interests’ themselves, since they also have the real enemy inside their borders. lt;br/gt;Mexico and Latin America will suffer some, but it will be good afterwards, because Mexico come out stronger and will withdraw immediately all concessions given to exploit gas and oil from their home land, and the two major Rail Roads’ and several Airlines operating in Mexico will suffer great loss on the multimillions’ investments. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt; Michael Prysner:lt;br/gt;”I threw families onto the street in Iraq only to come home and find families thrown onto the street in this country in this tragic, tragic and unnecessary foreclosure crisis; only to wake up and realize that our real enemies are not in some distant land. But not people whose names we don’t know, and cultures we don’t understand. The enemy is people we know very well and people we can identify. The enemy is a system that wages war when it’s profitable. The enemy is the CEO who lays us off our jobs when it’s profitable; it’s the insurance companies who deny us health care when it’s profitable; it’s the banks who take away our homes when it’s profitable. Our enemies are not 5000 miles away, they are right here at home. If we organize and fight with our sisters and brothers, we can stop this war, we can stop this government, and we can create a better world."
  4. V
    V. Ramaswami
    Nov 8, 2016 at 2:41 am
    As shown in a focus group meeting in CBS's show 60 Minutes, the only silver lining is that voters on all sides are disgusted with the politicians and their tactics, and it may lie the chance of a return to sanity.