Once strident critics, Team Trump circles wagons around embattled FBI chief Comey

FBI Director James Comey testifies during a hearing before House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Capitol Hill last July.
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FBI Director James Comey testifies during a hearing before House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Capitol Hill last July.

Talk about role reversal.

In July, FBI Director James Comey's decision to demur on bringing charges against Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton for her private server earned him unabashed scorn from GOP contender Donald Trump and his surrogates.

Proving what a difference a few months can make, many of Comey's former critics suddenly found themselves in an unexpected role: His staunchest defenders. On Friday, the official roiled the 2016 election by announcing the bureau was looking into new evidence in the long-running saga of Hillary Clinton's private server.

"I have great respect for the fact that the FBI and the Department of Justice are now willing to have the courage to right the horrible mistake that they made," Trump said on Friday, adding that the process "might not be as rigged as I thought."

Back in July, Trump denounced Comey's investigation—and subsequent closing of the probe—as 'very, very unfair'. At the time, the real estate mogul lambasted the system "rigged" and politically motivated. Yet in a head-spinning reversal, Trump changed his tune in dramatic fashion, on Friday, and he was far from alone in that regard.

Democrats who once defended the FBI's findings — or at least the integrity of the investigation — are now themselves furiously denouncing Comey's 11th hour intervention. The most pointed salvo came from Clinton campaign chief John Podesta.

In a letter that demanded immediate and full details of the new developments, Podesta called out the FBI's critics for "browbeating the career officials there to revisit their conclusion in a desperate attempt to harm Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign."

On Saturday, however, it was the Trump camp's turn to play the role of the bureau's defender. Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway blasted the criticism as "partisan…dangerous and unfair" to the process.

Meanwhile, Podesta once again lashed the FBI for bringing new attention to a case that was "long on innuendo" but "short on facts." He says there's "no evidence of wrongdoing. No charge of wrongdoing. No indication this is even about Hillary."

The Hill reported that an unnamed Clinton surrogate told the publication that Comey's last-minute intervention provided the GOP "with something they can all hang their hat on, at a time when they've been fighting with each other so much," and that the news had the potential to hurt Democrats down ballot.

A report in The New York Times suggests there are "tens of thousands of emails" which may have escaped the notice of investigators in the initial probe, because they were on a device belonging to former Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner.

Weiner is being probed in a separate case amid allegations he engaged in explicit messaging with an underage girl. If true, it suggests the missing emails pertained to Weiner's wife, Clinton aide Huma Abedin, but not Clinton.

For now, the FBI has not revealed in full its reasons for reopening the probe, or who exactly is the focus of the renewed scrutiny.

--The Associated Press contributed to this article.