The White House on Tuesday sought to downplay the idea that President Obama was trying to influence Justice Department prosecutors in the case against Hillary Clinton.
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"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 assured reporters.
Obama on Sunday suggested that Clinton's misuse of a private email server to store classified information was "careless," but that it was effectively "open-source" material and that it did not detract from her "excellent" work as secretary of state. "She would never intentionally put America in any kind of jeopardy," he added.
While Obama suggested Clinton did not commit any wrongdoing, he also said that he wouldn't put his finger on the scale. "I do not talk to the attorney general about pending investigations. I do not talk to FBI directors about pending investigations. We have a strict line, and always have maintained it," he said.
Nonetheless, the comments raised eyebrows for legal professionals. "It does raise concerns for prosecutors," Peter Henning, a law professor at Wayne State University and former federal prosecutor, told the Associated Press. "If it's a close case, how am I to judge whether to pursue charges when the president has said he doesn't think there's anything there? I don't think it will prejudice any decision but it certainly gives the appearance of that."
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Earnest said the president had not asked for or received a briefing "on the confidential elements of the ongoing investigation." Obama also said as much on Sunday, clarifying that he wasn't familiar with all of the details of the case.
Aside from the FBI's investigation into potential criminal violations, there are also at least 38 civil lawsuits against the State Department seeking records from Clinton's time as secretary of state.