Obama defends Clinton's use of private email server, sort of

President Obama said public servants have to be careful with online information, but that the controversy over Clinton's email has been 'ginned up' by Republicans for political gain.

Susan Walsh/AP
President Obama speaks at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute's 38th Anniversary awards gala in Washington, Oct. 8. Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server to conduct government business when she served as secretary of State was a mistake, but it didn't endanger national security, said Mr. Obama during an interview that aired Sunday, Oct. 11, on CBS's '60 Minutes.'

President Obama called Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server for government business while she served as secretary of State "a mistake" but said it didn't endanger national security, in an interview that aired Sunday on CBS's "60 Minutes."

"I think she'd be the first to acknowledge that maybe she could have handled the original decision better and the disclosures more quickly," Mr. Obama said.

Obama said public servants have to be more careful about how information and personal data is handled online, but he added that the controversy over Mrs. Clinton's email has been "ginned up" by Republicans for political gain.

He denied prior knowledge of the private email server and said the server was not a threat to national security. When Steve Kroft, a veteran "60 Minutes" correspondent, called attention to the Obama administration's prosecution of individuals with classified material on personal computers, the president said he didn't think with Clinton there was an intent to "hide something or to squirrel away information."

The security of Clinton's email system, a server that ran out of her New York home, is still under scrutiny by the FBI, as is the ongoing investigation of the 2012 attack on an American embassy in Benghazi, Libya.

Investigators recently revealed that Clinton's private server was the subject of hacking efforts in 2013 from China, South Korea, and Germany. The FBI is still scouring her system for any evidence of unauthorized intrusions into her server or any attempts to siphon off her data.

Clinton has remained mum regarding security protocol in her chosen email setup.

Obama also provided his take on the 2016 presidential elections, calling GOP front-runner Donald Trump "the classic reality TV character" and a "great publicity-seeker."

"He has tapped into something that exists in the Republican Party that's real," Obama said. "I think there is genuine anti-immigrant sentiment in the large portion of at least Republican primary voters. I don't think it's uniform."

Obama did not comment on Vice President Joe Biden's potential prospects in the presidential race. Many anticipate Mr. Biden to make his decision soon, not least because the first Democratic debate takes placce tomorrow night.

"If you're sitting right next to the president in every meeting and, you know, wrestling with these issues, I'm sure that for him, he's saying to himself, 'I could do a really good job,' " Obama said.

Obama also spoke candidly about Syria.  

The White House announced Friday it is halting a failed Pentagon-led effort to construct a new ground force of moderate rebels and will instead partner with established rebel groups. The change underscored the belief in Washington that Russia's intervention has complicated the Syrian battlefield and given new life to President Bashar Assad.

Obama claimed he was "skeptical from the get-go" about the capacity to create an army of moderate forces in Syria. Obama said part of the strategy behind the administration's efforts was to "try different things." He added that "in a situation that is as volatile and with as many players as there are inside of Syria, there aren't any silver bullets."

This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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