And well they should. After signaling to his Department of Justice that he saw no wrongdoing with Hillary Clinton’s e-mail server scandal, Barack Obama sent his underlings out to deny the obvious. Enter Josh Earnest:
President Barack Obama says he believes his former secretary of state did not intentionally endanger national security in her handling of classified information. But he also says he’s not trying to influence his administration’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server.
The White House on Tuesday was under pressure to reconcile those two statements – asserting Obama’s public defense of Clinton was not an attempt to meddle in an ongoing probe and that federal investigators will not be swayed by the boss’ views.
“The president is committed to ensuring that individuals who are conducting criminal prosecutions do their work without influence from politicians or anybody that’s involved in politics,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
Earnest’s reassurances came amid growing criticism that Obama had put his finger on the scale with recent comments describing Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state as mere “carelessness.” In an interview with Fox News Sunday, Obama seemed to embrace the Clinton campaign’s suggestion that the root of the controversy is over-classification – that too much government information is classified by bureaucrats after the fact. And most notably, Obama weighed in with his views on Clinton’s intent.
“Without influence”? Like, say, the man in charge of the executive branch — their boss, in other words — going on national television to assert that he thinks they’re wasting their time? Heaven forfend! And that’s definitely rain falling on your heads, not … well, you know.
This demonstrates why officials like Loretta Lynch and James Comey make a practice of researching new ways of saying, “No comment.” In high-profile investigations, public perception of integrity matters. In this case, Lynch and Comey had managed to calm Congress enough to reduce the demands for special counsel to near-silence. After Obama’s declaration of “no harm, no foul” on Sunday, expect those to rise again … especially since it’s not the first time that Obama has asserted it. Nor is it the first time that the White House has had to conduct a clean-up operation afterward.
So here’s the question: Does the Department of Justice pursue an indictment given the repeated statements of Lynch’s boss on the matter? Probably not, unless Comey personally recommends it and makes it known that he won’t cooperate with an effort to bury it. Remember, Comey has more than 140 agents working on this investigation, making it larger than the operation that netted the worst mole in FBI history, Robert Hanssen. If Lynch ends up feeling as strongly as Comey, does she defy Obama and the White House? Or perhaps opt for the more passive-aggressive strategy of appointing a special counsel? At this point, with as much interference as Obama has created with his repeated public statements, that option may be the only way to ensure some sort of integrity in the final decision.