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Voters will get to judge Hillary Clinton’s email scandal, not a jury

President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary

President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wave upon arriving at a campaign event at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, N.C., on July 5, 2016. Credit: AP / Susan Walsh

With one brief statement Tuesday FBI Director James Comey made it certain that no jury would ever penalize Hillary Clinton for her improper handling of emails while she was secretary of state. But Clinton made it possible voters will.

Comey’s summary of the FBI’s 16-month investigation of Clinton’s use of private, unsecured email servers for State Department business was deeply damaging to the likely Democratic presidential nominee. Her blasé and disingenuous response to the finding was deeply disappointing.

In a stunning news conference, Comey said Clinton sent or received more than 100 emails in more than 50 discussion chains that were classified when they were sent, something Clinton had repeatedly denied doing. Eight of those strings, Comey said, were “top secret.”

The FBI also found that Clinton and her lawyers withheld and deleted thousands of work-related emails, claiming they were personal. Comey also said Clinton used a series of unsecure servers and mobile devices to send messages inside and outside the United States, and from hostile parts of the world. He could not say for sure whether her communications and those with whom she corresponded with were hacked, but acknowledged the possibility.

Comey’s statement fell short of catastrophic for Clinton because he said there was no precedent for bringing charges absent either deliberate intent, a significant amount of sensitive material exposed, signs of disloyalty to the nation, or efforts to obstruct justice. He said Clinton was “extremely careless” but that’s not the same as “grossly negligent,” one standard mentioned in the criminal statute.

But Comey damned both her handling of information and her State Department’s attitude toward secure information. And he said that in similar circumstances, government employees might face security or administrative sanctions.

It’s an extraordinary and unsettling situation. Clinton had repeatedly cast the email investigation as another right-wing spin job, part of the history of her and her husband as victims of Clinton crucifiers. But it’s her transgressions that are in line with Clinton history this time.

It’s another disavowal of the rules, in using the personal servers and email accounts. It’s another series of lies, in claiming she never sent or received classified materials. And it’s another try at blaming everybody else for problems the Clintons caused themselves, by minimizing the danger of these errors and attacking those who pressed her on them.

Even the way in which Comey was forced to deliver his statement is testament to the swirl of bad acting that seems to follow the Clintons. He had to explicitly state that the Justice Department could not reasonably press charges, a shockingly unusual statement, because former President Bill Clinton’s surprise meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on her plane damaged her credibility and impartiality.

At a campaign rally Tuesday, Clinton should’ve acknowledged her missteps and apologize. She should’ve said what she would do as president to prevent this from happening. Instead, a spokesman portrayed Comey’s scathing statement as something between a mild admonition and a total vindication, painting the controversy as over. To the voters who question her trustworthiness, that may not be the case. — The editorial board