The fundamental problem Clinton can't shake

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Story highlights

  • Mel Robbins: FBI chief Comey cleared Clinton of criminal liability in email investigation, a conclusion that left no winners
  • She says scandal doesn't stick to Trump the way it does to Clinton, despite his own legal problems. Clinton should worry

Mel Robbins is a CNN commentator, legal analyst, best-selling author and keynote speaker. She is a contributing editor for Success magazine. In 2014, she was named outstanding news talk-radio host by the Gracie Awards. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)Today, the world's most boring political scandal reached an unsatisfying conclusion: Hilary Clinton has been cleared of criminal liability for allegations she mishandled classified information by using a private email server when she was the secretary of state.

Why is it unsatisfying? Because it confirms everything that we hate about the current state of politics. There are no winners today, only losers: the American public.
The FBI director, James Comey, appeared to be frustrated -- and fuming -- at the press conference where he announced the findings. It was a beat-down, even though he was backing away from an indictment. After an investigation that lasted longer than a year, a review of more than 30,000 emails and interviews with more than a dozen people, the decision not to formally charge Clinton came down to this, he said:
"In looking back at our investigations into the mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts," he said. Past prosecutions, he said, generally involved "clearly intentional and willful mishandling," "vast quantities of materials," or "indications of disloyalty to the United States or efforts to obstruct justice."
Remember four-star Gen. David Petraeus who went down on similar charges? He pleaded guilty to mishandling classified information. That was a very different case for sure: He intentionally gave confidential material to a journalist he was sleeping with and then lied to the FBI about it.
FBI's full statement on Clinton email investigation
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Clinton and her aides used a nongovernment email server, there was no breach that we know of and she cooperated with the FBI. As Comey said:
"In looking back at our investigations into mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts. ... We do not see those things here," he said. Which is why they are "expressing to Justice our view that no charges are appropriate in this case."
But if you listen closely, there's something bigger at stake than a conviction and a fine: There is the election. The FBI basically just called the story Clinton has been telling the public since 2015 a bunch of nonsense. Contrary to what Clinton has been saying, the server did in fact contain classified emails: 113 of them. Her actions did in fact expose the classified information to attacks by "hostile actors."
As Comey said, "any reasonable person ... should have known that an unclassified system was no place" for that sort of information. And Clinton and her team did delete emails that contained classified information. Those are facts, and they contradict what Clinton and her team have been saying.
The head of the FBI slammed Clinton and her team as "extremely careless." I think it's worse; I think she's extremely clueless about the bigger picture.
In law school, we often talked about the letter of the law versus the spirit of the law. She may not have violated the letter of the law (although there's debate there, too) but she sure as hell violated the spirit of it. And that plays right into her biggest challenge in the election -- herself.
Trump supporter agrees with FBI's Clinton decision
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She's not like Donald Trump. He seems to be able to say anything ("I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters") and we dismiss it because Trump just "says what he feels." He has been involved in more than 3,500 lawsuits. And where is the evidence that voters care? Where are the investigations of Trump? Who holds him accountable for battles he's lost in court or the number of small business owners that allege he uses aggressive and strong-arm tactics to rip off vendors?
In 30 years, no major U.S. company has filed for Chapter 11 more than Trump's casino empire, but that doesn't seem to scandalize voters.
This isn't an endorsement for Clinton, it's a perspective check for us all. Optics, not substance, are everything in American politics and it's clear who's winning and who's losing.
Some more perspective? A Public Policy Research Poll found that 13% of Americans say that if the choices for president were Clinton, Trump, and a giant meteor hitting the Earth, they'd go with the meteor.
Still, Clinton isn't Trump. Issues don't roll off her, they stick to her like cement and this one could very well sink her.
If Trump wins the election it'll be for one reason, people didn't like Hillary Clinton.
Trump: Clinton not charged because system is rigged
Trump: Clinton not charged because system is rigged

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And despite polling guru Nate Silver's prediction that she'll win, she could very well lose for two reasons. Many people believe she's not "trustworthy" and that she and her husband act as though the rules don't apply. The reason is that she appears to use the "letter of the law" as a shield, when what the public cares about is the spirit of the law.
In referencing a dozen "vaguely worded" emails about a planned CIA drone strike in Pakistan, Comey admonished Clinton, who "should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation." What he's really saying is that she did know it was no place for that conversation but she did it anyway.
Her own aides said in sworn testimony that they gave little to no thought about the problem of using a private email server. And why would they worry about the rules, if "technically" they weren't meaning to break them?
Hillary Clinton may have escaped all criminal liability, but there's no doubt in my mind she just increased the political kind.