Obama: Hillary's secret e-mail server was a mistake, and it's legit to question it

Call this an exercise in walking a balance beam. No, Barack Obama told Steve Kroft on last night’s 60 Minutes, he didn’t know about Hillary Clinton’s secret e-mail server. On one hand, Obama doesn’t believe this had national security implications, but on the other, it’s a mistake that raises “legitimate” questions, but it’s all politicized, too. About the only categorical statement Obama’s prepared to make on this is that he had no idea what was going on.

Is that … helpful?

KROFT: Did you know about Hillary Clinton’s use of private… private email server —


KROFT: — while she was secretary of state?


KROFT: Do you think it posed a national security problem?

OBAMA: I don’t think it posed a national security problem. I think that it — it was a mistake that she has acknowledged. And, you know, as a general proposition, when we’re in these offices, we have to be more sensitive and stay as far away from the line as possible when it comes to how we handle information, how we handle our own personal data. And, you know, she made a mistake. She has acknowledged it. I do think that the way it’s been ginned-up is, in part, because of politics. And I think she’d be the first to acknowledge that maybe she could have handled the original decision better and the disclosures more quickly, but…

KROFT: What was your reaction when you found out about it?

OBAMA: You know, this is one of those issues that I think is legitimate, but the fact that, for the last three months, this is all that’s been spoken about is an indication that we’re in presidential political season.

KROFT: Do you agree with what President Clinton has said and… and Secretary Clinton has said, that this is not that big a deal. Do you agree with that?

OBAMA: Well, I’m not going to comment on…

KROFT: You think it’s not that big a deal?

OBAMA: What I think is that it is important for her to answer these questions to the satisfaction of the American public. And they can make their own judgment.

So it’s politicized but legitimate. Hillary made a mistake and acknowledged it, but mishandled the acknowledgment. She still has to answer for her actions to the “American public,” but apparently not to the man who employed her. The only thing missing from this pas de deux is a declaration that Obama’s favorite color is plaid.

Still, there are a couple of points worth drawing from this. Hillary and her apologists insist that she did nothing wrong in setting up her own secret e-mail system and that State and the White House knew about it. Clearly, Obama wants to make sure people know that the latter isn’t true, and strongly hints that the former isn’t true either. Obama tries playing off part of this as politics as usual, but that’s only a half-hearted jab that Obama can’t even land when Kroft asks him to say that it’s no big deal.

The next time the Department of Justice charges someone with unauthorized retention of classified material (a favorite way to prosecute leakers) in this administration, the defense team should play this back during the arraignment.