Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama covered a lot of political ground during their first joint campaign appearance Tuesday afternoon.
They drew cheer after cheer from the crowd at the Charlotte Convention Center as they slammed Donald Trump and touted their public policy goals on everything from cutting the national debt to raising the minimum wage.
They touched on all the political hot buttons, it seemed, except the hottest one of all: FBI Director James Comey’s surprise announcement that his agency had finished its year-long criminal probe of Clinton’s private email server and was recommending against charging her for mishandling classified information.
That was surely welcome news for Team Clinton. The stinging public tongue-lashing the director gave Clinton in the process surely was not.
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Comey described the former Secretary of State and her colleagues as “extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.” He pointedly declared that Clinton, in dealing with one stream of Top Secret information, “should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation.”
Clinton has long maintained she never sent or received any material marked classified at the time she handled it. But Comey said the FBI’s investigation uncovered 110 emails that contained information that was classified at the time she handled them, directly contradicting her story.
She has also said that she didn’t “knowingly” deal with classified information on her private account, but Comey was having none of that, either.
“Even if information is not marked ‘classified’ in an email,” he said, “participants who know or should know that the subject matter is classified are still obligated to protect it.”
Trump and other Republicans might question the FBI’s findings, but the probe appears to have been a thorough and impartial one.
Federal prosecutors are almost certain to follow the FBI’s lead on this.
All of which would leave Hillary Clinton free of her worst personal nightmare – criminal charges – and still squarely facing her toughest political one: the American public’s stubborn skepticism about her commitment to transparency and her personal trustworthiness.
The unfinished business at the U.S. Justice Department might have deterred Clinton from directly addressing Comey’s disclosures during her appearance Tuesday.
Still, nothing should have stopped her from tackling the trust question head-on at the convention center. Unfortunately, she didn’t.
This is a deep political wound, but, unlike criminal charges, it’s one she can recover from. She has grudgingly acknowledged that she made mistakes with the email situation.
Now, she needs to convince us that she really means it – and that she can be trusted to uphold a higher standard in the future. After all of this, that will be a tough sell.