If you believe this….
President Obama chooses his words carefully, so it was startling on Sunday when he chose to opine on the Justice Department’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server. All the more so in the way that he phrased his defense of the Democrat he wants to succeed him as President in January.
On Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace rolled a clip from October of Mr. Obama saying that “I can tell you this is not a situation in which America’s national security was endangered.” Mr. Wallace then cited the 2,000 or so emails we have since learned contained classified information, including 22 that included “top secret” information, and he asked: “Can you still say flatly that she did not jeopardize America’s secrets?”
Mr. Obama replied: “I’ve got to be careful because, as you know, there have been investigations, there are hearings, Congress is looking at this. And I haven’t been sorting through each and every aspect of this. Here’s what I know: Hillary Clinton was an outstanding Secretary of State. She would never intentionally put America in any kind of jeopardy.”
Mr. Wallace pressed further on the jeopardy angle, and Mr. Obama responded again: “I continue to believe that she has not jeopardized America’s national security. Now what I’ve also said is that—and she has acknowledged— that there’s a carelessness, in terms of managing emails, that she has owned, and she recognizes.”
Hold on there, big fella. That is one loaded apologia. A more scrupulous President would have begged off the question by claiming that he can’t comment on an ongoing investigation in a department he supervises. So saying anything was bad enough.
But even more notable was Mr. Obama’s use of the word “intentionally” regarding Mrs. Clinton’s actions. As a lawyer, the President knows that intent is often crucial to determining criminal liability. And he went out of his way— twice—to suggest that what Mrs. Clinton did wasn’t intentional but was mere “carelessness, in terms of managing emails.” Why would Mr. Obama discuss the emails in those terms? He certainly isn’t helping Attorney General Loretta Lynch or FBI Director James Comey, who must decide how to assess Mrs. Clinton’s actions. If they now decide not to prosecute based on a judgment that Mrs. Clinton was merely careless, President Obama has opened them up to reasonable criticism that they were publicly steered by his comments.
Mr. Obama was at pains to “guarantee” to Fox’s Mr. Wallace that there will be “no political influence” from the White House over the email probe. But if you’re trying to send a message to the FBI or Justice, it’s probably shrewder to do it publicly by apologizing for Mrs. Clinton’s “carelessness” than it is to say something specific in a private meeting that could leak to the press. Mr. Obama can say he never said a word to either one, while those two take the heat if they give Mrs. Clinton a legal pass.
Our own view of the public email evidence is that Mrs. Clinton’s actions go far beyond mere “carelessness.” She knew she was setting up a private server in violation of State Department policy, she did it deliberately to prevent her emails from becoming public if she ran for President, and she knew classified information was bound to travel over that server.
As former Attorney General Michael Mukasey has written on these pages, “gross negligence” in handling classified information related to national defense is enough for criminal liability. That Mr. Obama would issue such a public defense, and use such legally potent words, suggests that there’s more culpability than he cares to admit.