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The political value of Hillary's gift to Trump, or maybe not

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
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Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton has handed Donald Trump a huge political gift when he needed it most.

Can he take advantage?

The gift was Clinton's long-ago decision to use a private email server as secretary of state, which began a chain of events leading FBI Director James Comey to harshly criticize her handling of sensitive government information. Though Comey on Tuesday declined to recommend criminal charges in the matter, he accused Clinton and her aides of an "extremely careless" approach to maintaining official secrets soon before she will claim the Democratic presidential nomination in Philadelphia later this month.

The gift would carry political value for any Clinton opponent, but especially so for Trump.

It impeaches her core argument that she possesses the judgment and experience to handle the presidency from Day One. It offsets her argument that Trump is uniquely unqualified for the presidency by virtue of his recklessness and lack of discretion. And it focuses attention squarely on public doubts about her trustworthiness after weeks of unrelentingly negative attention on Trump — most recently as a result of his decision to tweet an image that had previously appeared on a white supremacist website.

The most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed Clinton's vulnerability. By 41 percent-25 percent, voters said they preferred Trump to Clinton when it came to honesty.

Yet she has held a steady lead in the polls for weeks — by 43 percent to 39 percent, in the most recent New York Times average of national surveys.

The fact that the bombastic billionaire trails a Democrat with such a mixed reputation angers those Republicans who oppose Trump and fear he will prevent the party from reclaiming the White House.

"Comey absolutely shreds Hillary's credibility. But GOP about to nominate only candidate in US who can't take advantage," tweeted Charlie Sykes, a prominent conservative radio host in Wisconsin.

Republicans who have reluctantly acquiesced in Trump's rise are lending a hand. House Speaker Paul Ryan cited Comey's remarks in asserting that Clinton should be denied the traditional intelligence briefings that major party nominees receive regularly before the election. The Republican National Committee produced a video juxtaposing Comey's harsh words with Clinton's earlier protestations that she never sent or received information marked classified.

The Trump campaign released a similar video, while the candidate himself complained that she had escaped prosecution due to a "rigged system." On Wednesday, he deferred his planned announcement of the speakers' lineup for the GOP convention in Cleveland to allow media attention to linger longer on Clinton's predicament.

The question is whether Trump, with his own miscues in his business record and in the campaign, has already precluded his ability to win. Voters will decide between these two unpopular candidates in four months.