US Elections 2016: Final countdown

Obama: Probes should not be based on leaks

US President Barack Obama speaking at a rally for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at the University of North Florida, on Nov 3, 2016.
US President Barack Obama speaking at a rally for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at the University of North Florida, on Nov 3, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

He criticises FBI director's handling of reopening of e-mails case; Clinton campaign hit by new Wikileaks revelations

Wikileaks revelations continue to hound the Democratic campaign even as US President Barack Obama stepped up to Mrs Hillary Clinton's side, criticising FBI director James Comey amid a tightening race in the final days of the presidential campaign.

Hacked e-mails released through Wikileaks revealed a senior Justice Department official gave Mrs Clinton's campaign chairman John Podesta a "heads up" regarding the investigation into her private server in May, even before the Federal Bureau of Investigation concluded in July that there were no grounds for charges against her.

Seizing on this news, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump told a crowd in Miami on Wednesday the Justice Department was "feeding information" to the Clinton campaign, lamenting the "spread of political agendas" into the Justice Department.

Meanwhile, right-leaning Fox News quoted unnamed sources at the FBI, saying an indictment is likely in the case of pay-for-play interaction between then Secretary of State, Mrs Clinton, and the Clinton Foundation, "barring some obstruction in some way" from the Justice Department.

This comes as the Clinton campaign battles to contain the fallout from Mr Comey's letter to Congress last Friday, informing them that the bureau was reviewing new e-mails relating to the investigation on Mrs Clinton's private server.

Mrs Clinton now leads Mr Trump in the RealClearPolitics polling average by just 1.7 percentage points, down from 3.9 points last Friday. Yet in the New York Times/CBS News poll released yesterday, showing Mrs Clinton with a three-point lead, about 60 per cent of voters said that 11th-hour disclosures about each candidate would not make a real difference to their vote.

Trump supporters, however, seemed re-energised by recent revelations, with 52 per cent saying they are enthusiastic about voting, compared with only 47 per cent of Clinton supporters expressing the same enthusiasm.

President Obama broke his silence on Wednesday and criticised the manner in which Mr Comey handled the reopening of the investigation into Mrs Clinton's private server, as the news continues to affect the Democratic presidential nominee's lead in the polls.

"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," said Mr Obama in an interview with mobile news app NowThis News. "We operate based on concrete decisions that are made."

Mr Obama tried to play down his criticism by saying he was "setting aside the particulars of this case", but his remarks seem to break away from the White House position of remaining neutral on the issue, betraying the urgency of the situation as the race tightens.

Mr Comey has since come under fire from both Republicans and Democrats for breaking protocol and making the announcement just 11 days before the election on Nov 8 - a move that some regard as meddling in the election.

Throwing his weight behind his former secretary of state, Mr Obama said: "When this was investigated thoroughly, the last time, 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."

While Mrs Clinton was not indicted in July, Mr Comey did comment that she had been "extremely careless" in handling classified information. It is not known when the current review would be completed, though the Justice Department has said it would "dedicate all necessary resources" to concluding it promptly.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 04, 2016, with the headline 'Obama: Probes should not be based on leaks'. Print Edition | Subscribe