Obama Avoids FBI Mention in Ohio Campaign Stop for Clinton

  • Obama describes ‘noise’ and ‘distractions’ in campaign
  • White House seeks to distance itself from attacks on FBI chief

President Barack Obama went to Ohio on Tuesday to campaign for Hillary Clinton and avoided mentioning the biggest threat confronting her candidacy: the decision by FBI director James Comey to publicly renew a probe related to Clinton’s e-mail system.

“There’s noise and there’s distractions,’’ Obama said at a campaign rally near Columbus. “I want you to tune all of that out.”

The White House has sought to distance itself from top Democrats’ attacks on Comey. Obama’s press secretary, Josh Earnest, said repeatedly Monday that he would “neither defend nor criticize’’ Comey’s decision to disclose a review of newly discovered e-mails that might be related to the investigation of the former secretary of state’s use of a private server.

He called Comey a “man of integrity’’ but said his letter informing Congress of the e-mails “had the opposite of the intended effect.’’ Obama does not believe Comey is trying to influence the election, Earnest said -- a charge first leveled by Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid on Sunday.

The revelation by Comey that the agency was investigating e-mails found on a computer belonging to Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of close Clinton aide Huma Abedin, jolted the presidential race between Clinton and Republican Donald Trump a little more than a week before Election Day. It was disclosed in a brief letter Comey sent to lawmakers on Friday. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has publicly provided no information about what the files contain or how they may relate to the earlier investigation into Clinton’s use of a private e-mail system while she was secretary of state.

Trump has reveled in the FBI’s latest investigation, arguing it is reason for his supporters to go to the polls and for Clinton’s supporters to abandon her.

“Hillary is the one who broke the law over and over and over again,’’ Trump said Monday at a rally in Michigan. “She’s likely to be under investigation for criminality for a very, very long time to come."

Clinton and her top allies have questioned Comey’s judgment and, in some cases, his neutrality.

During a rally at Kent State University on Monday, Clinton said many are questioning “why in the world the FBI would decide to jump into an election with no evidence of wrongdoing with just days to go.’’

“There is no case,’’ she said.

House Democrats

House Democrats, who held a conference call Tuesday afternoon to discuss election strategy, vented frustration with Comey over the disclosures, but decided against issuing any formal call for his resignation, according to two people on the call.

Representative Mike Honda of California said in a separate statement Tuesday that Comey needs to provide more detail on the inquiry. Honda noted that he is the top Democrat on the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds the FBI.

“The director’s poorly timed, perplexing letter not only delegitimizes the important role of the FBI, it makes the American public’s trust in the bureau the ultimate casualty,” he said.

During the conference call, Democratic leaders pleaded with their colleagues in safe seats to help direct money to support candidates in closer races to help counter Republican infusions of cash, said the two people who were on the call.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told members that Democrats still hope to pick up as many as 12 seats on the East Coast alone, including possibly adding more female members from Maine, northern Virginia and Florida. Leaders also said they were tantalizingly close to winning a number of other close races, but Democrats had to work to counter fresh Republican attacks on Clinton.

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