President Obama criticized what he called FBI "leaks" in his first direct remarks on Director James Comey's decision to notify Congress of the status of an investigation into Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
"I do think that there is a norm that when there are investigations, we don't operate on innuendo, we don't operate on incomplete information, we don't operate on leaks," Obama said.
Obama's remarks were surprising, given the White House's previous position of neutrality in the politically charged issue. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Monday that he would neither defend nor criticize the director's decision.
Obama couched his remarks in generalities, saying he was "setting aside the particulars of this case."
"I've made a very deliberate effort to make sure that I don't look like I'm meddling in what are supposed to be independent processes for making these assessments," he said.
Still, his remarks came in an interview with Now This News, a mobile-only news app in which he gave a full-throated endorsement of Clinton's candidacy.
"Obviously it's become a political controversy. You know, the fact of the matter is that Hillary Clinton, having been in the arena for 30 years, oftentimes gets knocked around, and people say crazy stuff about her, and when she makes a mistake, an honest mistake, it gets blown up as if it's some crazy thing," Obama said. "So I understand why if you;re voting for the first time, or even the second time, all that noise coming at you, you think, there's something i need to be concerned about.
"I trust her. I know her," Obama said. "I wouldn't be supporting her if I didn't have absolute confidence in her integrity."
The FBI's disclosure last week that it was reviewing newly discovered emails — more than 600,000 communications linked to longtime top Clinton aide Huma Abedin — rocked a campaign that appeared to be on the verge of sealing a victory over Republican nominee Donald Trump. The emails were found in the midst of a separate inquiry into Abedin's estranged husband, former Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., whose sexually charged communications with a 15-year-old girl have drawn the scrutiny of both federal and state authorities.
Comey's vaguely worded notification to congressional leaders about the findings also unleashed a torrent of criticism leveled at the director who took the action over the objection of Attorney General Loretta Lynch and in a departure from Justice policy which cautions prosecutors and investigators from taking actions in close proximity to an election that could be viewed as interfering in the voting process.
"When this was investigated thoroughly the last time,'' Obama said, referring to Comey's July decision not to recommend criminal charges into Clinton's handling of classified information, "the conclusion of the FBI, the conclusion of the Justice Department, the conclusion of repeated congressional investigations was that she had made some mistakes. But there wasn't anything there that was prosecutable.''
No timetable has been set for the completion of the new FBI review, though officials have not foreclosed the possibility that it could be done before Election Day.