Hillary Clinton dodged an indictment but not a rebuke — one that could haunt her presidential campaign.
The federal government is unlikely to indict the presumptive Democratic nominee over her controversial use of a private email server during her tenure as President Obama's first secretary of state.
But FBI Director James Comey, in announcing his decision Tuesday not to recommend prosecution to the Justice Department, delivered a devastating condemnation of both Clinton's veracity and judgment in describing what investigators uncovered.
Clinton, he said during a news conference, was "careless" with classified material, risked intrusion by foreign governments, and incorrectly asserted that she never sent or received sensitive information over private email.
Those revelations are not as politically damaging as a criminal indictment. That could have ended Clinton's campaign. However, they are problematic and open a line of attack for presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.
The matter highlights Clinton's biggest political liability, that voters by a wide margin don't trust her, while undercutting perhaps her biggest asset, that she has the experience and competence to be a good president.
"It gives Republicans an opportunity to chip away on issue of trustworthiness, and that's a real thing," said a Democratic political operative, who requested anonymity in order to speak candidly. "I don't think it's going to affect her Democratic support."
Some Republicans are skeptical of Trump's abiity to use Clinton's email issue to his advantage. They watched as Trump presided over a dysfunctional campaign organization, and saw him squander several opportunities to gain on Clinton since he effectively secured the GOP nomination in early May.
The New York businessman has a habit of inviting controversy that obscures attacks on Clinton that could damage her if they could gain traction.
Over the weekend, Trump tweeted an attack on Clinton that used a graphic that included a "Star of David" and was lifted from an anti-Semitic online message board. The Trump campaign later edited the tweet and denied accusations of anti-Semitism.
But the tweet succeeded in distracting from news of Clinton's interview with the FBI on Saturday and her husband, former President Bill Clinton's unseemly private meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch a few days earlier.
Trump's core constituency certainly will be energized by the outcome of the FBI investigation into Clinton's email scandal, said a Republican campaign operative who has advised presidential candidates. "The question now is, will there be enough of them to win the election."
Clinton and Trump began this race as the two most unpopular presidential nominees in perhaps the history of modern polling. Their most recent approval numbers show just how little Americans think of the choices before them.
According to a Gallup survey from late June, Trump was viewed favorably by 42 percent of adults, compared to 59 percent who viewed him unfavorably. Clinton was in slightly better shape, at 51 percent favorable versus 50 percent unfavorable.
Those stats, and several self-inflicted wounds by Trump over the past several weeks, have helped Clinton build a sustained national lead over Trump that as of Tuesday stood at 4.6 percentage points in the latest RealClearPolitics.com average, 44.9 percent to 40.3 percent.
In a political atmosphere with hardened partisanship and fewer true swing voters, the question is whether Comey's scathing admonishment of Clinton's email practices while running the State Department could scramble the presidential contest.
Some Republicans speculated that the results of the FBI investigation into Clinton's private emails could shake things up in Trump's favor.
"It's always bad when your pre-existing problem gets worse. If Hillary does not win it will be because the public thinks she is untrustworthy. That got worse today," GOP strategist Brad Todd said.
Clinton grabbed the lead in May after Trump's racially charged remarks about a federal judge overseeing a lawsuit brought against one of his businesses.
The race has been pretty static since, unmoved by the terrorist attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., the release of a special congressional investigation into the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and Clinton's role in that as secretary of state and Great Britain's vote to exit the European Union.
Democrats concede the obvious, that Clinton would be much better off politically without the email investigation hanging over her head. They also acknowledge that Comey's remarks fell short of exonerating Clinton.
Still, they don't expect the issue to have a lasting impact on the race beyond reinforcing partisan perceptions. Democratic voters will remain loyal, they say, and Trump is a particularly unpalatable Republican for Democrats not enthused by Clinton, to say nothing of his own unique weaknesses with key voting blocs.
"This largely disappears as an issue except in right-wing chat rooms after a while," said Democratic strategist Bill Burton, a veteran of the Obama White House. "There is interest and energy around it because Trump is making so much noise but other events will overtake this issue."