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Clinton questioned at FBI over e-mail use

Sunday, July 3, 2016 - 11:00
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The roughly three-and-a-half hour meeting at FBI headquarters in Washington was confirmed by Mrs Clinton's campaign. PHOTO:AFP

[WASHINGTON[ Hillary Clinton was questioned on Saturday as part of the FBI's inquiry into her use of a private e-mail server while US secretary of state, a practice that's dogged her presidential run, fueled Republican charges that she's unfit for office, and caused Mrs Clinton herself to say she wishes she could take it back.

The roughly three-and-a-half hour meeting at FBI headquarters in Washington was confirmed by Mrs Clinton's campaign. It threatens more turbulence for the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee days after Attorney General Loretta Lynch was criticized for meeting former President Bill Clinton privately on an aircraft in Phoenix.

"Secretary Clinton gave a voluntary interview this morning about her e-mail arrangements while she was Secretary. She is pleased to have had the opportunity to assist the Department of Justice in bringing this review to a conclusion," Nick Merrill, a spokesman for Clinton, said in an e-mailed statement.

Interviewed on MSNBC on Saturday, Mrs Clinton said she "was happy I got the opportunity to assist the department and bring this to a conclusion." The Democrat told NBC's Chuck Todd that she had "no knowledge of any timeline" for the investigation to end. "I'm not going to comment on the process," she said.

Once it finishes its investigation, the FBI will make a recommendation to Ms Lynch about whether to pursue a prosecution of Mrs Clinton or her aides, guidance the attorney general said Friday that she expects to accept. And while the holiday-weekend interview doesn't imply that the former first lady and senator from New York faces indictment, the idea of Mrs Clinton having met with law enforcement officers will have political consequences.

It's unclear if Mrs Clinton was the final person to be questioned. If so, the probe may be wrapped up before the Democratic National Convention that starts in Philadelphia on July 25 at which Clinton is poised to formally become the first woman presidential nominee for a major US political party.

The interview makes it "a bad day" for Mrs Clinton and her team, said George C. Edwards III, who holds a chair in presidential studies at Texas A&M University in College Station. "In heavily polarized partisan politics, people view all such things through their partisan blinders."

The FBI investigation is focused narrowly on the question of whether Mrs Clinton or those writing to her improperly handled classified information by sending it to or from her private e- mail address. Politically, Mrs Clinton has been fighting the broader question of whether it was proper to rely on her own e-mail system rather than an official state.gov address.

"It was allowed, and the rules have been clarified since I left about the practice," Mrs Clinton has told reporters. "I have said many times it was a mistake and if I could go back I would do it differently." She made that comment after a report from the State Department's inspector general in May found she never asked for approval to conduct official business on a private e-mail server and would have been turned down if she had.

The FBI interview and continuing investigation could hamper Mrs Clinton's efforts to capitalize on weeks of negative publicity for Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, ahead of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland that starts July 18.

Mr Trump has repeatedly called his Democratic rival "crooked Hillary" and said on June 29, "Hillary Clinton, and as you know she - most people know she's a world-class liar. Just look at her pathetic e-mail server statements." Mr Trump tweeted on Saturday that its impossible for the FBI not to recommend criminal charges against Clinton. "What she did was wrong! What Bill did was stupid!" Mr Trump said.

At the FBI meeting, officials were likely to have presented Mrs Clinton with the evidence they have obtained so far, and question her in detail about the private e-mail system, according to lawyers who have litigated other cases involving the handling of sensitive information.

Mrs Clinton, 68, used the private e-mail to send or receive about 60,000 messages from 2009 to 2013. She and her aides said about half were work-related and turned over to the State Department. They said the rest, which they deemed personal, were destroyed. Mrs Clinton added that she used the system for convenience.

BLOOMBERG