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Obama: I don't believe FBI chief Comey aimed to meddle in election

US President Obama has said he believes FBI Director James Comey was not trying to influence the election when he decided to re-examine a probe into Hillary Clinton's emails. Democrats blasted the timing of the move.

James B. Comey (Reuters)

Obama named Comey, a Republican, FBI director in 2013

"I've said before and I'll say again, Jim Comey is a good man," US President Barack Obama said in an interview on MSNBC. "I do not believe that he is in any way trying to influence the election one way or another. I think he is a serious public servant who wants to do the right thing."

FBI Director James Comey has been the target of a barrage of criticism, mainly from Democrats, after he told Congress last week that the agency would examine a newly discovered trove of emails that appeared to be relevant to a probe into Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while secretary of state.

The announcement, just days out from the presidential election, provided little detail about the nature of the emails. The decision also broke with longstanding FBI traditions of keeping investigations confidential and avoiding politically sensitive announcements close to a presidential election.

Some senior Democrats said they believed the move was careless and would unfairly influence the November 8 vote.

Obama told MSNBC that when investigating a case, unless something has been unearthed, investigators need to just do their job.

Earlier in the week, the president had implicitly criticized the FBI director, insisting US investigations should not operate based on "innuendo" or "incomplete information."

"We operate based on concrete decisions that are made," 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 that there wasn't anything there that was prosecutable," he said.

An initial year-long probe by the FBI into Clinton's use of the server ended in July. The inquiry found that Clinton had mishandled emails, but it did not call for criminal charges to be brought against her. 

The email controversy has dogged Clinton for much of the campaign, with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump seeking to hold the issue up as an example of his rival's untrustworthiness. Although the former secretary of state still retains a lead over Trump in opinion polls, the race for the White House has tightened significantly over the past week.

nm/sms (Reuters, AP)

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