WASHINGTON — Federal agents were still cataloging the classified information from Hillary Rodham Clinton’s personal email server last week when President Obama went on television and played down the matter.
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“I don’t think it posed a national security problem,” Mr. Obama said Sunday on CBS’s “60 Minutes.” He said it was a mistake for Mrs. Clinton to use a private email account when she was secretary of state, but his conclusion was unmistakable: “This is not a situation in which America’s national security was endangered.”
Those statements angered F.B.I. agents who have been working for months to determine whether Ms. Clinton’s email setup had in fact put any of the nation’s secrets at risk, according to current and former law enforcement officials.
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Investigators have not reached any conclusions about whether the information on the server had been compromised or whether to recommend charges, according to the law enforcement officials. But to investigators, it sounded as if Mr. Obama had already decided the answers to their questions and cleared anyone involved of wrongdoing.
The White House quickly backed off the president’s remarks and said Mr. Obama was not trying to influence the investigation. But his comments spread quickly, raising the ire of officials who saw an instance of the president trying to influence the outcome of a continuing investigation — and not for the first time.
A spokesman for the F.B.I. declined to comment. But Ron Hosko, a former senior F.B.I. official who retired in 2014 and is now the president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, said it was inappropriate for the president to “suggest what side of the investigation he is on” when the F.B.I. is still investigating.
“Injecting politics into what is supposed to be a fact-finding inquiry leaves a foul taste in the F.B.I.’s mouth and makes them fear that no matter what they find, the Justice Department will take the president’s signal and not bring a case,” said Mr. Hosko, who maintains close contact with current agents.
Several current and former law enforcement officials, including those close to the investigation, expressed similar sentiments in separate interviews over several days. Most, however, did so only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the case.
The White House said Thursday that Mr. Obama was not commenting on the merits of the investigation, but rather was explaining why he believes the controversy over Mrs. Clinton’s emails has been overblown. The president, officials said, was merely noting that the emails that have been publicly released so far have not imperiled national security.
“There’s a debate among national security experts, as part of their ongoing, independent review, about how or even whether to classify sections of those emails,” said Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary. “But, as the president said, there is no evidence to indicate that the information in those emails endangered our national security.”
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Whether Mr. Obama’s remarks have a lasting effect beyond upsetting some F.B.I. officials depends on the investigation’s outcome. Since the email inquiry began this past summer, investigators have been scrutinizing everyone who came in contact with her server and trying to determine whether anyone sent or received classified information, whether that information was compromised and whether any of this amounted to a crime.
Tensions among career F.B.I. agents, the political appointees