Opinion

JOAN VENNOCHI

Why is the FBI so slow on Clinton e-mail probe?

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 06: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO's Convention on April 6, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Democratic Primary is scheduled for April 26, 2016. (Photo by Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images)
Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images

If FBI Director James Comey feels no deadline pressure to wrap up the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mail server, he should.

“The urgency is to do it well and promptly. And ‘well’ comes first,” Comey told local law enforcement agents in Buffalo on Monday, according to the Niagara Gazette.

“Well” is important. But so is “promptly,” and the FBI’s definition of that is unclear.

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The probe, underway for a year now, addresses a fundamental question: Did Clinton intentionally or recklessly forward classified information in a way that put the country at risk?

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Getting the answer sooner rather than later seems only fair.

“Yes, there surely is a professional, ethical, and moral obligation of the Feds to finish the investigation ASAP rather than leave a cloud hanging over the electoral process,” said noted criminal defense lawyer Harvey Silverglate. What’s also troubling, said Silverglate, is that “we don’t even know who is ignoring his/her ethical obligations, since we have not been informed, to my knowledge at least, who is in charge of the investigation.” Is it Attorney General Loretta Lynch, he asks, or — given the highly charged political nature of the investigation — a designee?

Democrats have a special interest in reaching closure before picking their nominee. Even the most loyal Clinton supporters wonder if an indictment is more than right-wing wishful thinking.

But an investigation that drags on past the convention, into the fall, is more than a partisan concern. It’s unfair to the country as a whole.

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Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server while she was secretary of state has come to epitomize her biggest challenge as a presidential candidate — the voters’ lack of trust in her. No matter what the FBI concludes, that political problem, years in the making, won’t go away. If no one committed any crime with the e-mail set-up, Clinton’s judgment can still be questioned. She now acknowledges it was a mistake.

But that’s different from facing assertions she should be in jail — as Donald Trump has charged — because of the way she handled her e-mail.

If Clinton is exonerated, Republicans will see it as a cover-up. If there’s a criminal indictment, Democrats will read politics into that, too. Either way, the FBI will be criticized. That’s a given. Still, it’s no excuse to kick the investigation can down the road. In its own way, that looks political too. Is the FBI trying to protect her or hurt her?

Asked last Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” whether the FBI had reached out to her for an interview, Clinton said, “No, no, they haven’t.” She added, “Back in August, we made clear that I’m happy to answer any questions that anybody might have. And I stand by that.”

If her answer is truthful, and she signaled availability “back in August,” why take so long to question her? A key aspect of any potential criminal investigation would hinge on Clinton’s intent in setting up the private e-mail server. Only she can speak to that.

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From a purely political perspective, it would have been better if it happened months ago. If it ended Clinton’s presidential ambitions, so be it. She could have at least moved on with her life, and the party could have moved onto another candidate.

Instead, according to media reports, the FBI is just getting to the point of questioning Clinton and assorted aides. Asked this week on “The View” if she will be able to put the matter behind her, Clinton said, “I’m sure I will, because there’s nothing to it.”

An endless investigation leaves a perpetual cloud over her head. That’s not a crime, but it should be.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.