President Obama said Sunday that Hillary Clinton showed “carelessness” by using a private email server, but he also strongly defended his former secretary of state, saying she did not endanger national security, while also vowing that an ongoing FBI investigation into the matter will not be tainted by politics.
In an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” Mr. Obama seemed to prejudge the outcome of the ongoing inquiry into Mrs. Clinton’s email scandal, and he disputed the notion that any of the emails contained classified information of true importance.
“She would never intentionally put America in any kind of jeopardy,” he said. “What I also know is that there’s classified and then there’s classified. There’s stuff that is really top secret top secret, and then there’s stuff that is being presented to the president, the secretary of state, you may not want going out over the wire.”
But Mr. Obama also conceded that Mrs. Clinton used poor judgment in choosing to conduct official business through a private account rather than use a State.gov address. Mrs. Clinton herself has said that was a poor choice and she wishes she had done things differently.
“I continue to believe she has not jeopardized America’s national security,” the president said. “There’s a carelessness in terms of managing emails that she has owned and she recognizes. But I also think it is important to keep this in perspective.”
More than 2,000 emails that passed through Mrs. Clinton’s account now are marked classified, and nearly two dozen contained top secret information.
The FBI is investigating the matter, and while Mrs. Clinton has virtually promised she will not be indicted, the scandal still hangs over her presidential ambitions and fuels the notion — widespread, according to opinion polls — that she’s not trustworthy.
She maintains that no emails in the account were classified at the time they were sent or received — though she was initially much more emphatic, flatly saying she had never handled classified information. She reiterated last week that, in her view, the federal investigation ultimately will clear her.
“That is not going to happen,” she told NBC News when asked if she would be indicted. “There is not even the remotest chance that it’s going to happen.”
Critics were quick to jump on Mr. Obama’s defense of Mrs. Clinton, saying the president is grasping at straws by focusing on differences in how emails are classified.
“The president twisted himself into a pretzel spinning his former secretary of state’s mishandling of classified material,” said Michael Short, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee.
Republicans also have charged that Mr. Obama’s Justice Department will be hesitant to bring charges against Mrs. Clinton because doing so would torpedo her presidential aspirations. Mrs. Clinton is locked in a tough race with Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, with the possibility of a general election to follow.
The president dismissed that criticism and promised in no uncertain terms that the FBI probe will be free from all political interference.
“I guarantee there is no political influence in any investigation conducted by the Justice Department of the FBI, not just in this case but in any case,” he said. “Full stop, period, guaranteed. Nobody gets treated differently when it comes to the Justice Department because nobody is above the law.”