In an unexpected flip-flop, just two days after White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that “President Obama doesn’t think Comey tried to influence the election” and that “Obama still believes Comey has good character”, the US president – who has expressly stated that he doesn’t wan’t to look like he is meddling – on Wednesday changed his tune, when he unleashed criticism addressed at FBI Director James Comey’s disclosure of the Bureau’s new probe into Hillary Clinton’s private email server.
In his first public comments on the decision, Obama told NowThis News he did not want to interfere with the investigation. Yet, he did just that when he said it’s important that the public’s judgment not be colored by incomplete information, hinting that the reopening of the FBI probe should not influence voter decisions, even though it would mark the first time a candidate could become president pending an active FBI investigation, with potential criminal consequences.
“I do think that there is a norm that when there are investigations, we don’t operate on innuendo,” Obama said in the interview published Wednesday. “We don’t operate on incomplete information. We don’t operate on leaks. We operate based on concrete decisions that are made.”
Obama took a more pointed tone than his press secretary, Josh Earnest, who said previously that the White House did not have an official position on Mr. Comey’s decision. Mr. Earnest referred to the Justice Department guidelines, however, and said, “The president believes that it’s important for those guidelines and norms to be followed.”
We spoke with President Obama about the FBI’s recent investigation into emails related to Hillary Clinton pic.twitter.com/3ivMp2TfVi
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) November 2, 2016
The president did not mention the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, but it was clear Mr. Obama was referring to him. Declaring that he had “made a very deliberate effort to make sure that I don’t look like I’m meddling in what are supposed to be independent processes for making these assessments,” Mr. Obama nonetheless expressed confidence in Mrs. Clinton.
“I trust her,’’ he said. “I know her. And I wouldn’t be supporting her if I didn’t have absolute confidence in her integrity and her interest in making sure that young people have a better future.’’
Obama also noted that Comey himself decided not to recommend criminal charges against Clinton for mishandling classified information on her private email server while secretary of State.
“When this was investigated thoroughly the last time, the conclusion … was that, you know, she made some mistakes but that there wasn’t anything there that was, you know, prosecutable,” Obama said.
With the FBI’s decision dominating the airwaves, Clinton and other top Democrats have slammed Comey for being vague about how exactly, the messages, discovered in an unrelated investigation of former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), the estranged husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin were linked to the Clinton email investigation. Comey has endured a firestorm of criticism after he sent a letter to Congress last Friday saying that his agency was probing messages that could be linked to the investigation into Clinton’s server. The disclosure, made less than two weeks before Election Day, boosted the campaign of Republican nominee Donald Trump.
Democrats have also said Comey is violating Justice Department policy against making investigative decisions that could be seen as influencing the outcome of an election.
Obama would not say specifically whether he believed Comey did so. “Well, you know, I’ve made a very deliberate effort to make sure that I don’t look like I’m meddling in what are supposed to be independent processes for making these assessments,” the president said, as he meddled.
White House officials later downplayed Mr. Obama’s remarks about the F.B.I. and insisted he had not meant to criticize Mr. Comey.
“The president went out of his way to say he wouldn’t comment on any particular investigations,” Eric Schultz, a White House spokesman, told reporters on Air Force One while Obama was en route to North Carolina to campaign for Hillary Clinton. Schultz characterized Obama’s remarks as mirroring those made in recent days by the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, who had said that while the White House would not criticize Comey’s decision to update Congress on the status of an ongoing investigation, Obama believed that rules intended to keep such investigations confidential were good ones and should be followed.
Obama also called the controversy surrounding her email server overblown.
“The fact of the matter is that Hillary Clinton, having been in the arena for 30 years, oftentimes gets knocked around and people say crazy stuff about her,” he said. “And when she makes a mistake, an honest mistake, it ends up being blown up as if it’s just some crazy thing.”
And that is what, to Obama, the five ongoing FBI investigations surrounding virtually everyone in Hillary’s inner circle, boil down to: “an honest mistake.”
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