Nothing makes for a quicker getaway after a narrow brush with the law than Air Force One.
Hillary Clinton spent Tuesday morning in Washington being chastised by an unexpectedly stern director of the FBI, but a few hours later she was flying free – cleared at least of the threat of criminal charges and heading to her first campaign rally alongside the commander-in-chief, with only political storms on the horizon.
Their arrival in North Carolina was not without its awkward moments. Add together the standard presidential motorcade and the already long convoy of a presidential candidate, and you reach a cumbersome 28-vehicle snake that nearly tied itself in a knot drivingon the way out of the airport.
But by the time their shared limousine, nicknamed “the beast”, reached the Charlotte Convention Center, the former secretary of state was basking in the kind of unabashed praise that would have been impossible for Obama to deliver whilea possible indictment was still hanging over her.
“My faith in Hillary Clinton has always been rewarded,” said the president in a speech that was part campaign endorsement, part character testimony. “I have had a front row seat to her judgement,” he added, without a hint of irony.
It was hard to tell whether the beaming Clinton was happier about the compliments or that Obama never once mentioned an email scandal that the FBI had found to be worse than almost anyone imagined.
“The president is a friend in the good times and the bad times,” said Clinton, in words that will have done nothing to lessen Donald Trump’s assertion that the Obama administration had collectively “let her off the hook”.
Instead, there were two elephants in the room: one of them Clinton’s unspoken near miss with the Feds and the other one her Republican rival, who served as the main target of both Democrat’s speeches. Trump’s name produced a predictable response from the crowd of Clinton supporters, prompting the president to call: “Don’t boo – vote!”
“Even the Republicans don’t know what the other guy is talking about,” he went on. “They really don’t. You ask them and they are like: ‘I dunno’.”
Sounding increasingly confident, Obama began to excoriate Clinton’s opponent and joke in the third-person. “I know the other guy talks about making American great again, but America is really great,” he said. “Turns out that when Obama came into office the world didn’t think we were that great.”
If the president’s job was to vouch for the candidate’s character on a day when it was most called into judgement, Clinton’s was to protect his legacy from whatever Trump might unleash.
“We’re going to build on the president idea to make community college free,” she said, apropos of little.
“As we went from political rivals, to partners and friends, my esteem for him just kept growing,” said added, in a particularly difficult segue that moved from their 2008 primary contest to shared foreign policy triumphs.
“He knows a thing or two about winning elections, take it from me,” she added, before a remark that sounded aimed at Bernie Sanders supporters. “We competed as hard as we could back in 2008 but when it was over I was proud to endorse him,” she said. “In some places, as you know, the person who loses an election gets exiled or executed, not asked to be secretary of state.
Clinton also sought to position herself as the natural inheritor of Obama’s historic achievement as the first African American president – harking all the way back to the “hot summer” of 1776 for inspiration.
“Nobody who looked like Barack, or me, would have been included back then, but we are here today because the story of America is the story of hard fought progress,” she said.
Obama did his best to reciprocate. “I am here today because I believe in Hillary Clinton and I want you to help elect her the next president of the United States of America,” he began.
“The bottom line is I know Hillary can do the job and that’s why I am so proud North Carolina to endorse Hillary Clinton,” he concluded.
But as Trump prepared to address a rival rally 170 miles away in Raleigh, it was clear that the Democrats were going to have to do more than this if they really expected the email scandal to go away for good.
“As FBI Director James Comey let Clinton off the hook for her ‘extremely careless’ actions, the fix was final,” blasted Trump in a statement. “The Obama administration’s anointed successor has had an indictment removed from her path, and will now be able to glide to the rigged Democrat nomination. As we move toward November, the question now becomes, ‘what is Hillary hiding?’”
When the dust from the FBI probe settles, the former secretary of state is likely to have to give a fuller account of her actions, now that the world knows just how agents came to saying her “extremely careless” conduct came to to criminal indictment.