At first blush, it looked as if FBI director James Comey’s announcement regarding Hillary Clinton’s email debacle offered something for everyone.
For those paid or disposed to defend Hillary Clinton: Comey said his office was recommending the Justice Department should file no charges against her — meaning no decisively mortal wound to her campaign. “No charges!” they broadcast.
But for Clinton critics and detractors: The top federal law agent stunningly called a U.S. Secretary of State — who served in the same administration — “extremely careless” with sensitive information.
The mix sent Twitter accounts on both sides fluttering to spin the news in predictable directions. But at the end of the day it is a bad thing for Clinton since “Inept But Not Corrupt!” wouldn't make a strong campaign slogan.
And while the timing for Clinton could have been worse — say, the middle of the Democratic convention or the electoral heat of October — it trips her up coming out of the Independence Day weekend.
Comey's announcement emerged the very day she was flying on Air Force One into the battleground state of North Carolina with President Barack Obama.
Worse yet, however, it arrives only a few days after former President Bill Clinton famously chatted with Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who runs the Justice Department, of which the FBI is a part.
Now, speculation of all sort rises about the sequence of events. It makes all the more salient Lynch’s answer the other day to what she was thinking when she permitted an informal audience with the aspiring First Spouse at a Phoenix airport.
“Well, I think that’s the question of the day, isn’t it?,” Lynch said -- before adding she wouldn’t do it again.
Republican near-nominee Donald Trump reacted predictably, feigning amazement that Clinton won’t be prosecuted for compromising national security.
But Josh Barro, senior editor at Business Insider, astutely tweeted that the language “extremely careless” would be “a powerful talking point for any GOP nominee who wasn’t Donald Trump.”
Trump has proved himself so incautious in so many ways that her side could argue she's not as sloppy with facts and information as he is.
Still, it is Clinton who represents herself as seasoned enough to make the right decisions.
For Trump’s purposes, the FBI finding might not jibe entirely with his “Crooked Hillary” name-calling. But at the least, it underscores concerns about her judgement.
It is worth noting that Comey, in his job since 2013, is a Republican. The job carries a 10-year term.
In public, Comey's public messages have differed marketdly from Obama's. In recent months, he said viral videos of police abuse and political protests may have cops to become less aggressive. In March, Comey caused blowback from Silicon Valley executives -- usually seen as Obama allies -- when he demanded Apple help unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernadino terrorists.
So his role becomes a matter of partisan-tinted debate.
Comey defended his independence by saying Tuesday that people who weren’t part of the probe expressed opinions that are “irrelevant” and “uninformed by insight into our investigation.”
The last Clinton in the White House survived impeachment charges -- but he too was exposed, if nothing else, as quite careless.
This case differs in its details and scope. But the biggest down side for Democrats is that it provides chilling reminder of past Clinton fiascoes.