With just a week to go in the most bitter American election campaign anyone can remember, Hillary Clinton has been damaged by an FBI decision to re-open the investigation into her use of a private email server when she was Secretary of State. This might not match Donald Trump's latest troubles - his treatment of women and the suggestion he might not accept the election result - but the election is looking closer than it was a week ago.
The FBI's announcement is a gift to Trump and the Republicans, not because it confirms there was something sinister in her deleted emails but because it may look like that way to wavering voters. Not all of those voters will read the news in sufficient detail to discover the FBI has done no more than tell Congress it is investigating a store of emails found on a laptop belonging to the disgraced New York congressman, Anthony Weiner, whose estranged wife was an aide to the Secretary of State.
Among the nearly 650,000 emails there may be some from Clinton or there may not be. There may be some to Clinton, or there may be some to and from her aide, Huma Abedin, that may have some sort of bearing on whether Clinton has committed a serious security breach, or they might not contain anything of remote interest to the FBI. It is just a new avenue of inquiry, nothing more, and in view of its electoral sensitivity it is no wonder questions are being asked about the FBI director's decision to alert Congress.
The director, James Comey, took that step against the advice of the Justice Department. He obviously decided it was better to make it public now than run the risk of finding something untoward against Clinton once she was in the White House, and he is probably right. The FBI's fruitless earlier investigation has been a continuing bone of Republican contention in the election campaign and voters have a right to know the new development even though nothing substantial has been discovered.
Clinton is still comfortably ahead in the states she needs for victory and, if elected, she will have reason to be grateful this investigation was made public before voting day, not after. A defeated Trump would make a meal of it had the new investigation been kept quiet before the election. It would feed his need to absolve himself in his own mind of any sense of failure and rejection. As it is, he has made the most of the news, claiming it endorses everything he has said about "crooked Hillary".
It does nothing of the kind, though it does mean she would be elected under the cloud of an FBI investigation. Right now, in the heat of the campaign, that cloud seems darker than it will once the election is over. Even if Trump is elected it is hard to believe he would pursue her case with the vindictive fervour he has expressed in his campaign.
Her carelessness, as the FBI called it, has been exaggerated by opponents in the way these things tend to be in elections everywhere. In fact, the email story has been the most conventional element of this most unconventional campaign.