Barack Obama’s spokesman described the FBI’s probe into Hillary Clinton’s classified email scandal as a ‘criminal investigation’ on Thursday, less than an hour after the president endorsed his embattled former secretary of state to succeed him.

Josh Earnest told reporters during a White House press briefing that Obama was committed to keeping his hands off the investigation, trusting career investigators and prosecutors to follow evidence wherever it leads.

‘That’s what their responsibility is,’ Earnest said. ‘And that’s why the president, when discussing this issue in each stage, has reiterated his commitment to this principle that any criminal investigation should be conducted independent of any sort of political interference.’

A search Thursday through White House briefing transcripts for similar acknowledgements turned up none.

Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Short crowed to reporters that ‘the White House’s admission that the FBI is investigating Hillary Clinton’s email server as a “criminal” matter shreds her dishonest claim that it is a routine “security inquiry”.’

‘This is another reminder of her reckless conduct as Obama’s secretary of state, where her attempt to skirt government transparency laws exposed highly classified information and put our national security at risk.’

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