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FBI’s decision in Clinton email scandal won’t lift the political cloud over her

Hillary Clinton committed no crimes in using a private email server as secretary of state, but she also failed to commit common sense. So says the director of the FBI, who announced on Tuesday the findings of what appears to be a thorough, monthslong investigation.

Director James Comey was declarative about the matter, reporting that “no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case” as this one, but also lighting into Clinton and her staff as “extremely careless” in their handling of sensitive information. Both conclusions seem justified.

The announcement ends any real possibility of legal action against the all-but-certain Democratic nominee for president. That’s important for her, of course, but it won’t stanch the political fallout. That will be left to voters who will rule this November, and even that is unlikely to end the suspicions that her critics harbor.

Indeed, this development will likely change few minds. Those who thought she should have been indicted will continue to think so, and will see Bill Clinton’s foolhardy, impromptu visit with Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch last week as proof that the fix was in. Those who support Hillary Clinton’s candidacy will finally be able to exhale, knowing the damage caused by her own carelessness is now limited to the political.

The end of the investigation was signaled three days ago when FBI agents spent more than three hours interviewing Hillary Clinton. Based on that and a formal investigation that began last year, the agency concluded that she did not intentionally send or receive any classified emails. That virtually rules out criminal charges, given that Lynch promised last week not to dispute the FBI’s recommendation.

It was unusual, but appropriate, for Comey to make the announcement that he did on Tuesday. Normally, an investigation that produces no criminal charges would be quietly closed with no public notice. Clearly, though, it’s a different matter when the issues have already been made public and they center around a candidate for the presidency.

Now, it’s going to be up to voters to make the final decision on Clinton’s fitness for office, and that’s appropriate. Clinton’s actions in the email episode will surely be relevant, but so will all the other issues that come into play in any presidential election, including policies on taxes, jobs, the environment and so on, as well as voters’ assessment of her likely Republican opponent, Donald Trump.

But this email episode was a self-inflicted injury. By using an unsecure, private email server, she handed her political adversaries a club they can use over and over again, and not only regarding her terrible judgment in using it. There is also the nagging matter of the 30,000 emails that she alone determined to be private and none of the investigators’ business.

Those emails, she said, had to do with issues such as yoga routines and wedding plans for her daughter, Chelsea. No doubt, the emails included such personal information, but it leaves open the question of whether the deleted files included anything other than that. Some of those emails were later recovered, but for the most part, Americans have only her word about what she deleted.

Still, there is a bottom line here: An exhaustive investigation by career FBI agents has concluded that Clinton did nothing illegal – that is, that she neither sent nor received information she knew to be classified. That matters, but so does Comey’s criticism that “There is evidence” that she “should have known that an unclassified system was no place for” the official State Department conversations she was conducting.

Given that, it is appropriate for this part of the matter to be concluding as it is, leaving the ultimate authority where it belongs: with the voters in whom the Founding Fathers placed their trust.