Awkward position for Obama in emails row
The latest clamour over Hillary Clinton's emails has put Barack Obama in a spot where no president wants to be: caught between his attorney general, his FBI director and his preferred White House successor.
With accusations of political interference flying, Obama is trying to keep his distance as an internal government spat bursts into public view. In a bit of unwelcome irony, Obama's strict adherence to the notion of judicial independence, preached throughout his years in office, has hamstrung his efforts to defend Clinton against a GOP onslaught
Democrats hope Obama's hands-off approach to the FBI forms a powerful contrast to Donald Trump, whose insistence that Clinton should be in prison seems to skip a few steps of due process.
But White House spokesman Josh Earnest was left to explain how Obama (right) could be silent about an explosive issue. "I'll neither defend nor criticise what Director Comey has decided to communicate to the public about this investigation," Earnest said, referring to FBI chief James Comey. During an hour-plus-long briefing that focused almost exclusively on Comey's decision, Earnest used some version of that formulation - "neither defend nor criticise" - 10 times.
Criticism of Comey has mushroomed since his Friday bombshell, announced in a letter to Congress: The FBI is investigating more emails related to Clinton to see whether they contain classified information.
Deploying rhetorical gymnastics, Earnest said Obama believed strongly in centuries-old FBI and Justice Department traditions "that limit public discussion of investigations".
Yet Earnest declined to connect the dots by faulting Comey's decision to pursue the opposite approach.
Earnest argued he couldn't second-guess the FBI director without knowing all the circumstances behind his decision.
"Clearly it had the opposite of the intended effect," Earnest said. "I think we can all agree on that."