Obama’s first Clinton rally eclipsed by FBI email findings

Republicans turn up heat on Democrat over ‘careless’ handling of classified information

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama at a joint campaign event in North Carolina, where the president gave his official endorsement. Photograph: Susan Walsh/AP Photo

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama at a joint campaign event in North Carolina, where the president gave his official endorsement. Photograph: Susan Walsh/AP Photo

 

It was one of the most extraordinary days in the 2016 US presidential campaign. Events directly affecting the race for the White House co-existed on Tuesday, but in parallel universes.

FBI director James Comey, appointed by US president Barack Obama in 2013, concluded, after a year-long investigation, that there was no evidence to show that use of a personal email by Hillary Clinton, Obama’s first secretary of state, was criminal.

However, he said Clinton’s handling of sensitive, classified information was “extremely careless”.

At the same time, Clinton was preparing to fly to Charlotte, North Carolina on Air Force One with Obama for his first campaign even for the second-time presidential candidate. It will be one of the highest-profile stump speeches for Clinton from a man who ended her first bid for the White House eight years ago.

It should have been one of the biggest moments of Clinton’s campaign so far: the presumptive Democratic nominee receiving the ringing endorsement at a public event from a president whose popularity far exceeds her own.

Praising Clinton

“I have had a front-row seat to her judgment and her toughness and her commitment to diplomacy,” Obama said in a full- blooded approval of his onetime highest-ranking diplomat.

At times, a “fired-up” Obama electrified the crowd with chants of “I’m with her” and “Hillary! Hillary!”

Contrast that with Comey’s findings that 110 of Clinton’s emails from her time at the State Department contained classified information, and her repeated claims since her use of a personal email as secretary of state first emerged that she had never sent or received any material on it marked classified.

“There is evidence to support a conclusion that any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position, or in the position of those government employees with whom she was corresponding about these matters, should have known than unclassified system was no place for that conversation,” said Comey.

While the FBI director lifted the legal cloud that has overshadowed Clinton’s presidential aspirations for months now, his damning findings have left an overcast political sky. They confirm long-held Republican suspicions about Clinton that she is “above the law”, as the party’s speaker of the US House of Representatives Paul Ryan suggested on Tuesday.

Clinton’s move-along, nothing more to see here response to Comey’s findings was to say she was “pleased” that no further action was considered appropriate and that the “matter is now resolved.”

Classified briefings

“We have seen nothing but stonewalling and dishonesty from secretary Clinton on this issue, and that means there are a lot more questions that need to be answered,” he said.

The controversy will run as Comey is today scheduled to testify before the House committee on oversight and government reform, chaired by Republican Jason Chaffetz. In addition, US attorney general Loretta Lynch will be questioned by the House judiciary committee, led by another Republican, Bob Goodlatte, next Tuesday.

Donald Trump, the Republican’s presumptive presidential nominee, seized on the FBI’s criticism of his rival, bashing “Crooked Hillary Clinton” as a liar and tweeting that she was “so guilty”.

Trump failed to capitalise fully, instead knocking Clinton’s FBI troubles off the news agenda on Tuesday night and early Wednesday with this praise of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein for being “so good” at killing terrorists at a campaign rally in Raleigh, North Carolina.

“It was pretty severe criticism,” said Brad Bannon, a Democratic political strategist of the FBI’s findings, “and ordinarily it would be a deal breaker for Hillary Clinton. The reality is she is running against Donald Trump. That forgives a lot of sins.”

Never Trumper

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“A lot of it is baked in the cake,” he said. “Most of us already knew Hillary Clinton was untruthful and dishonest about her email and that she handled this poorly. It doesn’t win over new voters to Trump and only rallies people who had decided that they weren’t for Clinton.”

Neither Clinton nor Obama mentioned the FBI’s criticism at their joint campaign appearance in Charlotte.

Many supporters at the rally felt the controversies around Trump would outweigh concern about her emails, but that it would still be used against her by her rivals.

“They said it was not good judgment, possibly so, but certainly not like it has blown up to be by the Republicans,” said Joyce Deaton, a freelancer writer from Charlotte.

“It is a big liability for Hillary Clinton and it will hurt,” said John Kibler, a county treasurer for the Democratic Party in North Carolina.

He predicts investigations by Republican-led congressional panels that will make the multitude of inquiries into the deadly 2012 attack on the US diplomatic outpost on Benghazi pale by comparison.

“It is going to be a big issue in the campaign,” he said.