RALEIGH, North Carolina — Donald Trump on Tuesday night repeatedly hammered his message that there is a “rigged system” at work, pointing specifically to the FBI decision to not recommend criminal charges against Hillary Clinton for her use of email while serving as secretary of state.
Trump seized on the FBI’s decision as he addressed the crowd of fervent supporters in this potential battleground state, calling it the “best evidence ever that we’ve seen that our system is totally rigged.”
He accused Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, of bribing the U.S. attorney general — offering little to back up the dramatic accusation. And he called the FBI’s decision, announced earlier Tuesday by the agency’s director James Comey, a “tragedy.”
“Everybody thought based on what was being said she was guilty. She was guilty. And it turned out that we’re not going to press charges. It’s really amazing,” Trump said as his crowd of more than 2,200, according to the theater, erupted in a chorus of boos.
“We have a rigged system, folks,” he added.
Trump, who emerged victorious in the GOP primaries by portraying himself as an outsider and riding a wave of anti-Washington sentiment, has in recent weeks worked to paint Clinton as an embodiment of the establishment and called for a radical shake-up of the status quo. That message was alive and well on Tuesday.
The FBI director’s remarks Tuesday that Clinton was “extremely careless” in storing classified information on her private email server during her time as secretary of state coupled with his decision to not recommend criminal charges proved a potent political combination for Trump.
“That’s a tremendous word,” Trump said of Comey’s description of Clinton’s actions.
And then he quickly returned to criticizing the FBI decision.
“It’s a tragedy. Because we’re a country of law. We’re a country of order,” Trump said. “Stupidity is not a reason that you’re going to be innocent.”
But Trump took his central message that Clinton is not facing charges because of a “rigged” and corrupt system beyond insinuation and varnished allusion.
Drawing on a report in The New York Times that Clinton “may decide” to keep on U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch should she win in November, Trump accused Clinton of bribing Lynch.
“If she wins, she’s going to consider extending the attorney general and you know what, I’m not saying, I’m not knocking the attorney general, what I’m saying is how can you say that? It’s a bribe,” Trump said. “The attorney general sitting there saying, if I get Hillary off the hook I’m going to have four more years or eight more years, but if she loses I’m out of a job, it’s a bribe. It’s a disgrace. It’s a disgrace.”
Trump added of Clinton: “She is laughing at the stupidity of our system. She is laughing and so is her husband, Bill, laughing at what’s going on because they’ve been there before.”
Peppered throughout his remarks on Tuesday were also accusations that Clinton is “a criminal with a guilty conscience” and “one of the most crooked politicians in history.”
Trump has previously called for Clinton to be jailed and has suggested he would direct his attorney general to reopen an investigation into Clinton’s email scandal with the goal of indicting the former secretary of state.
Trump, who is prone to making tangential statements and straying off message during his rallies, was remarkably consistent Tuesday night in his message.
“We are going to get rid of these fools — these fools — that are running our country,” Trump said, winding down at the end of his speech.
Trump also seized on the revival of Clinton’s email scandal on Tuesday by laying out the stakes of the general election — one Trump hopes will be a referendum on Clinton’s high unfavorability ratings, and not his own.
“Hillary Clinton can’t keep her emails safe and you know what folks, she sure as hell can’t keep our country safe,” he said.
The FBI news conference on Tuesday could not have been more welcome news for Trump, who was facing his latest round of controversy over a tweet he sent out on Saturday that evoked anti-Semitic imagery.
But Trump now faces a new test: whether he can stick to the message he now appears to have grasped, and avoid the self-inflicted wounds that have so often steeped him in controversy.