Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks about the results of the South Carolina primary to supporters at a primary night party in Columbia, South Carolina, February 27, 2016. .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON -- Hillary Clinton dodged a fatal bullet to her presidential aspirations on Tuesday, avoiding a federal criminal indictment recommendation from the FBI over her handling of top-secret information while secretary of state.
But much of what originally elevated a story over her private e-mail use into national controversy was reinforced in a statement by FBI director James Comey, when he cast Clinton and her aides as "extremely careless" in their digital handling of classified material, both at home and abroad.
While the FBI found no traces of foreign hacking of Clinton's private e-mail servers, Comey said the bureau cannot be confident that its agents would be able to identify such traces. Clinton was "sending and receiving work-related e-mails in the territory of sophisticated adversaries," Comey said, and "hostile actors gained access to the private commercial e-mail accounts of people with whom Secretary Clinton was in regular contact."
Clinton's campaign was never going to win over the type of voters who disagree with the FBI's ultimate conclusion not to recommend charges. Those who think of Clinton as a criminal are not persuadable voters. But the FBI assessment does reinforce the concerns of persuadable voters over Clinton's judgment and trustworthiness– her worst polling characteristics.
Roughly two out of three Americans polled worry Clinton lacks this sort of integrity, according to several polls from NBC, the Wall Street Journal and CBS conducted throughout the end of June. They reflect decades worth of media spotlight on a woman who has, warranted or not, lived through one scandal after another alongside her former president and husband.
Such an entrenched reputation is unlikely to change. And what would otherwise be an historic disadvantage for the candidate is offset by the fact that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, has equally bad numbers on likability and trustworthiness, if not worse.
The FBI concluded that no prosecutor would reasonably bring charges without finding "clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information" or "vast quantities of materials exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct." Comey's reputation in Washington as a consummate legal professional should put to rest, on the establishment level, calls for federal charges from the Justice Department.
But Clinton's problem has never been that the scandals in which she has been mired infer clear and appropriate blame. Her problem has always been in the area of dodgy gray, where voters resort to their imaginations and, over the course of several years, connect the dots. Her case to those voters was made harder on Tuesday.