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President Obama: the FBI shouldn’t put out “innuendo” about criminal investigations

President Barack Obama doesn’t think the FBI should be going around leaking information or rumors about important criminal cases.

“When there are investigations, we don’t operate on innuendo,” Obama said in an interview on the internet-based video service “Now This” released on Wednesday after he was asked about the “timing” of FBI Director James Comey’s letter to Congress on Friday about emails related to the Clinton email controversy. “We don’t operate on leaks; we operate on concrete decisions that are made.”

Obama’s remarks were immediately interpreted as a dig at Comey. The letter came just over a week before the election, and Comey had previously said in July the Clinton email investigation was closed.

Given that it came so soon before the election, and that it didn’t provide any evidence of wrongdoing on Clinton’s part, Comey’s ambiguous letter has drawn a torrent of criticism from both sides, from Clinton’s campaign to Republican senators.

The White House has maintained that it can’t comment on the scandal one way or another. On Monday, spokesperson Josh Earnest said the administration would “neither defend nor criticize what Director Comey has decided to communicate to the public.”

And in the Now This interview, Obama did say he wasn’t going to comment on “the particulars” of Clinton’s case. But his comment that the federal government shouldn’t “operate on leaks” is hard to see as anything but a criticism of the FBI, which has been riven by a leak-war since the Clinton letter was released.

Here’s a transcript of the full exchange on Now This:

REPORTER: Were you upset yourself with the timing at all?

OBAMA: Well, I’ve made a deliberate effort to make sure it doesn’t appear like I’m meddling in what are supposed to be independent processes for making these assessments.

Setting aside the particulars of that case, I know that she is someone who has always looked out for the interest of America and the American people first. And I do think it is a norm that when there are investigations we don’t operate on innuendo; we don’t operate on leaks; we operate on concrete decisions that are made.

When this was investigated thoroughly the last time, the conclusion of the FBI, the conclusion of the Justice Department, the conclusion of repeated congressional investigations was that she had made some mistakes but that there wasn’t anything there that was prosecutable.