In a 15-minute news conference Tuesday, FBI Director James Comey blew away the darkest cloud over Hillary Clinton’s quest for the presidency — whether she would face criminal charges for transmitting classified information in private email during her four years as President Barack Obama’s secretary of state.
But dark clouds are stubborn. They don’t disperse on command, especially political ones.
What Comey said about Clinton leaves no doubt that what she did was wrong, not just a “mistake” as she has described it since the email scandal broke.
She was wrong to use relatively unsecured private email instead of the State Department’s guarded system.
She was wrong to discuss classified material on that private system.
And she has been wrong when she has repeatedly said none of that material was classified when she included it in her emails.
Comey might be right that her behavior does not meet criteria for successful criminal prosecution. But Clinton cannot escape the political consequences of the his disclosures.
That’s not a prediction that the presumptive Democratic nominee will lose the presidential race.
Voters will weigh this evidence along with her other strengths and weaknesses and those of Donald Trump, her presumptive Republican opponent. They may decide that Trump’s negatives are worse.
But the cloud over Clinton is still dark.
Despite partisan outcry over Comey’s conclusion that criminal charges are not warranted, there is no reason to believe that the FBI investigation was anything less than what he described: “entirely apolitical and professional.”
It had its origins in the brutal political aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, in which Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.
Congressional investigations of Clinton’s role and responsibility in Benghazi turned up evidence of her private email.
Last year, the inspector general for intelligence agencies said he found classified material in Clinton’s email, leading to the FBI investigation.
Seven email chains contained top-secret information, Comey said.
“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 that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation,” he said.
That’s both candid and damning.