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Clinton Is Lucky She's Running Against Trump

Tuesday was a mixed bag for Hillary Clinton.

She escaped a recommendation of an indictment from the FBI, removing the biggest storm cloud over her in this presidential campaign.

But it did not come without significant pain for Clinton, because while FBI Director James Comey did not recommend a formal indictment to the Department of Justice, he served up an indictment of her judgment.

Comey called Clinton and her team "extremely careless" in handling classified material; he said it's "possible" that "adversaries" were able to access or read her emails; that "hostile actors gained access to" the emails of people with whom she corresponded, he said. And never mind whether emails were marked classified or not, Comey pointed out, Clinton and her team should have known better — that a private email server is no place for sensitive information and that, in fact, more than 100 emails were classified at the time sent or received (and eight email chains were top secret).

FBI Director James Comey delivered a stinging statement about Hillary Clinton's use of private email servers while secretary of state, but he did not recommend a formal indictment.
Cliff Owen / AP
FBI Director James Comey delivered a stinging statement about Hillary Clinton's use of private email servers while secretary of state, but he did not recommend a formal indictment.

Comey's forceful televised statement reinforced the idea that the Clintons are always skirting just to the edge of what's legal. (And it comes a week after former President Bill Clinton created a completely avoidable political maelstrom by meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on the tarmac of an airport just to say hi.)

Clinton and her supporters have acknowledged setting up an email server in this way was a "mistake." Yes, other secretaries of state have used private email addresses. But going to the level of setting up servers in your own home may not just open you up to security vulnerabilities but also to political ones.

Yes, plenty of dot-gov email addresses and servers have been hacked, including at the State Department. But the security of the information is the responsibility of the government.

When you put servers in your own home, it's on you.

It reveals a level of paranoia, a want for a "zone of privacy" that's virtually nonexistent in public life. There are ways to accomplish a measure of that — but attempting to shield or filter your work communication to this extent is not one of them.

The email scandal has served to distract from policy issues Clinton would rather focus on — from child care, equal pay and paid leave to guns, immigration and foreign policy.

And over the last year and a half, it has steadily eroded views of her character. A majority of Americans see her as not "honest and trustworthy." She is now the least-liked likely major-party nominee in history except for one person — Donald Trump.

He happens to be her opponent in this campaign, and elections are choices. Because of Trump, Clinton remains favored to be the next president of the United States. On nearly every measure — likability, leadership, temperament — Trump is viewed worse than Clinton.

And he has bungled nearly every opportunity handed to him, some of which NPR's Sarah McCammon chronicled — blowing the five weeks after he had sealed the nomination and Clinton was embroiled in her primary fight with Bernie Sanders; tweeting about congratulations he has received for "being right" after the Orlando shooting; praising Brexit for possibly being good for his business while in Scotland, which voted overwhelmingly against it; tweeting out a Jewish/sheriff's star on the same day Clinton was interviewed by the FBI; accusing Lynch of being offered an actual "bribe," Comey of being part of a "rigged" system and praising Saddam Hussein — all on the day Comey thwacked Clinton.

Clinton's team has struggled to come up with a slogan for her campaign. It has seemed to settle on "Stronger Together," an implicit shot at Trump.

It could remove any veneer and re-brand to something more transparent — "Better than Trump."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.