Updated: FBI recommends no criminal charges over Clinton emails: Director

AFP , Tuesday 5 Jul 2016

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton addresses the The National Education Association (NEA) Representative Assembly in Washington, Tuesday, July 5, 2016 (Photo: AP)

The FBI recommended Tuesday that no charges be brought over Hillary Clinton's email use while secretary of state, taking a weight off the presumptive Democratic nominee's shoulders as she hit the campaign trail with Barack Obama for the first time.

But the FBI's assessment, which found that Clinton was "extremely careless" in sending classified information via her personal email account, is far from the complete exoneration she had hoped for as she seeks to rally Democrats in her showdown with Republican Donald Trump.

She and Obama were headed to Charlotte, North Carolina for the first in a series of high-profile rallies that Clinton hopes will energize voters, particularly minorities who remain enamored with the outgoing president, in crucial battleground states where the race will be decided.

The rally comes just hours after Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey in Washington said he will recommend that Justice Department prosecutors file no criminal charges in the Clinton email investigation.

Comey said that after an exhaustive probe, carried out with no political agenda, investigators found no evidence of "intentional misconduct" by Clinton or her close aides.

But in a stinging rebuke, he said the FBI found that Clinton and her team "were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information."

Comey's conclusion that Clinton did send and receive information that was deemed classified, and in some cases top secret, at the time of transmission contradicts Clinton's repeated assertion that she never sent classified information through her personal email account or homebrew server.

The FBI accusations of carelessness are sure to fuel the Trump-led Republican narrative that the Clintons have operated above the law for years.

"FBI director said Crooked Hillary compromised our national security. No charges. Wow!" Trump said on Twitter minutes after Comey's remarks. "The system is rigged."

While not as legally damaging as a prosecution would be, Comey's judgement is far from the all-clear that the Clinton team would have hoped for.

"Recommending no charges but rebuking @HillaryClinton for carelessness, is about best result she could get," Obama's former advisor David Axelrod said on Twitter.

With just three weeks until the Democratic convention that will formally anoint Clinton as the party nominee, Republicans have seized on the case to highlight Clinton's lack of trustworthiness among voters.

Clinton was interviewed for 3.5 hours Saturday by the FBI as the investigation came to a close.

The former first lady came under renewed fire after it emerged that her husband Bill met briefly with Attorney General Loretta Lynch at an airport in Arizona last week -- prompting Republicans to cry foul over possible government interference with the email probe.

Lynch pledged in response to respect FBI and prosecutors' decisions on whether to bring charges in the case.

Traveling with Obama to North Carolina, Clinton was expected to seek to move on from the email controversy and reset her campaign.

The question is how and whether Clinton and Obama will address the Comey remarks on stage in Charlotte.

To prevail in November, Clinton will need the embrace of Obama as her top surrogate and character witness, a president who offers the powerful optics of stepping off of Air Force One together with Clinton and who then draws sharp distinctions between her and Trump.

Obama is at his highest approval rating in years and can still rally the Democratic base, which could be crucial for Clinton whose popularity is deep in the red, as is Trump's.

Trump was also taking his campaign to North Carolina, scheduling a rally in Raleigh for Tuesday evening, highlighting the importance of winning the swing state.

Nearly all major recent polls put Clinton ahead of Trump nationally, although a poll in Tuesday's USA Today shows her lead over the provocative billionaire shrinking to five points, compared with the poll's 11-point gap two months ago.

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