White House walks back Obama's Clinton email comments

Story highlights

  • Obama said on "60 Minutes" that he didn't think Clinton's personal email server "posed a national security problem"
  • But White House press secretary Josh Earnest clarified that Obama's statement was made only "based on what we publicly know now"

Washington (CNN)The White House on Tuesday backtracked on President Barack Obama's blanket assertion earlier this week that Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server as secretary of state didn't pose a national security threat.

Asked outright in an interview on CBS' "60 Minutes," Obama said, "I don't think it posed a national security problem."
But asked how the President was able to make such a definitive statement even as the FBI is looking into the server's security, White House press secretary Josh Earnest clarified that Obama's statement was made "based on what we publicly know now."
    "The President was making an observation about what we know so far, which is that Secretary Clinton herself has turned over a bunch of email to the State Department, and the review of that email has garnered some differing assessments about what's included in there," Earnest said.
    The President's comment was "certainly was not an attempt, in any way, to undermine the importance or independence of the ongoing FBI investigation," Earnest said, stressing that Obama "has a healthy respect for the kinds of independent investigations that are conducted by inspectors general and, where necessary, by the FBI."
    The Justice Department is looking into how the information on Clinton's server was handled, and Clinton's aides have turned the server over to the FBI as part of that probe.
    The intelligence community and State Department inspectors general revealed in July that some of Clinton's emails contained classified information that was not identified correctly, but State Department officials maintain the information was not classified at the time it was sent.
    In the "60 Minutes" interview, Obama also rejected the notion that Clinton's email practices are comparable to cases where his administration has prosecuted individuals over misuse of classified information.
    "We don't get an impression that there was purposely efforts ... to hide something or to squirrel away information," he said.