Barack Obama’s spokesman described the FBI’s probe into Hillary Clinton’s classified email scandal as a ‘criminal investigation’ on Thursday, less than an hour after the president endorsed his embattled former secretary of state to succeed him.
Josh Earnest told reporters during a White House press briefing that Obama was committed to keeping his hands off the investigation, trusting career investigators and prosecutors to follow evidence wherever it leads.
‘That’s what their responsibility is,’ Earnest said. ‘And that’s why the president, when discussing this issue in each stage, has reiterated his commitment to this principle that any criminal investigation should be conducted independent of any sort of political interference.’
A search Thursday through White House briefing transcripts for similar acknowledgements turned up none.
Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Short crowed to reporters that ‘the White House’s admission that the FBI is investigating Hillary Clinton’s email server as a “criminal” matter shreds her dishonest claim that it is a routine “security inquiry”.’
‘This is another reminder of her reckless conduct as Obama’s secretary of state, where her attempt to skirt government transparency laws exposed highly classified information and put our national security at risk.’
Obama gave Clinton his official nod Thursday in a video message, saying: ‘I know how hard this job can be. That’s why I know Hillary will be so good at it. In fact, I don’t think there’s ever been someone so qualified to hold this office.’
In the press briefing that followed, a Fox News Channel reporter challenged Earnest on the question of whether civil servants in the U.S. Department of Justice might see the presidential endorsement as a signal that it was time to wrap up their investigations.
Clinton has been dogged for more than a year by charges that she exposed state secrets to hackers and foreign governments by keeping all her email correspondence on a private homebrew server while she was secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.
Depending on evidentiary nuances, that could violate the U.S. Espionage Act and subject Clinton to 10 years in prison, even if she put classified documents in an ‘unsecured’ location through simple negligence.
Clinton said Wednesday that she ‘absolutely’ will not face a criminal indictment.