Luckily for Hillary Clinton, she’s running against Donald Trump.
In the hands of any reasonably respectable Republican opponent, the findings of an FBI investigation concerning Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state could be a lethal weapon. As they stand now, those findings are hurtful — but not fatal.
In a statement delivered Tuesday, FBI Director James Comey lambasted Clinton for extreme carelessness and poor judgment in the way she handled official e-mail correspondence. He also suggested “it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal e-mail account.”
And from Clinton’s perspective, that’s probably not the worst of it. According to the FBI director, “110 emails in 52 email chains have been determined by the owning agency to contain classified information at the time they were sent or received.”
That directly contradicts Clinton’s past assertions that she never sent or received classified information, and directly reinforces her biggest liability with voters — their lack of trust in her.
The good news for Clinton is that the FBI is not recommending criminal prosecution.
The better news is that Trump, who brings trust and judgment baggage of his own to the general election, remains her competition for the Oval Office. So voters will continue to weigh his private sector record and campaign statements against her public sector record and campaign statements.
They must ponder policies each would pursue, along with the face of leadership the United States will present to the world with either as president. From that evaluation comes the final, fateful voting decision.
The FBI findings won’t sway the committed anti-Trump voter.
But shaky Clinton backers who were ambivalent from the start could be tempted to bolt — if only they could find a mature, intelligent alternative.
They won’t find it in Trump.
He reacted to Comey’s press conference, as usual, via a sophomoric tweet. “The system is rigged. General Petraeus got in trouble for far less. Very very unfair! As usual, bad judgment,” he griped, deciding the big issue was the disparity of treatment between Clinton and Petraeus, the former CIA director who resigned after disclosures that he shared classified information with a biographer with whom he was romantically involved.
Trump followed up with another tweet about “Crooked Hillary ... No charges. Wow!”
Imagine four years of that kind of adolescent response to national and world events.
House Speaker Paul Ryan’s response, which also came via a tweet, had a more statesmanlike tone:
“While I respect the professionals at the FBI, this announcement defies explanation. No one should be above the law.”
Clinton sure is fortunate that former GOP presidential candidates Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul — or Ryan — aren’t getting ready to accept the GOP nomination in Cleveland.
She’d be in bigger trouble than she is today.
Joan Vennochi is a columnist for the Boston Globe.