Clinton questioned by FBI as part of email probe

Hillary Clinton at the CNN Democratic Debate at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas, Tuesday, October 13, 2015.

Hillary Clinton at the CNN Democratic Debate at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas, Tuesday, October 13, 2015.

By Dan Berman

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Hillary Clinton met with the FBI for three and a half hours Saturday as part of the investigation into her use of a private email server while leading the State Department, her campaign said.

“Secretary Clinton gave a voluntary interview this morning about her email arrangements while she was secretary,” Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill said in a statement. “She is pleased to have had the opportunity to assist the Department of Justice in bringing this review to a conclusion. Out of respect for the investigative process, she will not comment further on her interview.”

An aide said the interview occurred at FBI headquarters in Washington Saturday morning and lasted approximately three and a half hours. The FBI declined to comment on the interview.

The meeting means the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server for official business as secretary of state is coming to an end. The question now becomes how long it will take for the FBI to conclude its probe.

Sources familiar with the investigation had previously told CNN the Justice Department’s aim was to wrap up before the Republican and Democratic conventions later this month. The timing is crucial, because if Clinton were to be indicted before the convention, Democrats could perhaps nominate another candidate.

The news of FBI agents interviewing the former secretary of state could heighten anxiety among Democrats that their nominee might be indicted before November. It also serves as a reminder of Clinton’s negatives to voters already skeptical of her trustworthiness.

It’s an investigation that has cast a shadow over her campaign and also has put the Justice Department in the position of having a major say in how the 2016 vote turns out.

The interview comes at the end of a week that could have been another win for Clinton as Trump continues to struggle, but instead demonstrated her — and her husband’s — inability to avoid unforced errors and leave past controversies behind.

House Benghazi Committee Republicans on Tuesday released their report on the September 11, 2012, attack where four Americans died, which drew significant media attention but lacked significant new information that changed the dynamic of the race. The panel’s biggest discovery was finding the email address and server over a year ago.

Clinton has maintained that no emails marked as classified at the time were sent on the server, and that information in some emails was retroactively classified. And her campaign has actively portrayed the congressional investigation into Benghazi as a partisan exercise, highlighted by last October’s 11-hour hearing where Clinton testified.

But the FBI interview, along with news that Bill Clinton and Attorney General Loretta Lynch met at an Arizona airport Monday, shows Clinton can’t move past the email issue — a story that overshadowed the launch of her campaign in early 2015 and helped Bernie Sanders find running room still won’t go away.

Sanders, in fact, is still in the race, pushing for progressive changes to the Democratic platform. As recently as Thursday, the Vermont senator said he’s not ready to endorse Clinton.

For Republicans, the possibility of an indictment is a satisfying one. The GOP has pursued the Clintons for 25 years, from the scandals of Bill Clinton’s presidency and his impeachment to Hillary Clinton’s actions leading up to and during the Benghazi attacks. That the FBI could hamstring her presidential ambitions is a bonus for the GOP.

But it’s a reminder that their candidate — Donald Trump — is a major liability himself. He’s more unpopular than she is and his poll numbers are sliding. Her campaign and allies have been airing millions of dollars’ worth of ads against him, many highlighting his impolitic statements about women and minorities — two groups that are backing Clinton by large margins.

The GOP establishment has yet to fully rally around the billionaire New York businessman, who trails Clinton 46% to 40% in the latest CNN Poll of Polls and has struggled to raise money in comparison to the Clinton and Democratic juggernaut.

The revelations of the email server as part of the House’s Benghazi probe have also resulted in lawsuits filed in Freedom of Information Act cases by the conservative Judicial Watch and other groups.

One such lawsuit saw Clinton’s top aide, Huma Abedin, deposed this week, along with other State Department staffers.

A State Department Inspector General report released in late May said Clinton failed to follow rules or inform key staff about the server.

“At a minimum, Secretary Clinton should have surrendered all emails dealing with Department business before leaving government service and, because she did not do so, she did not comply with the Department’s policies that were implemented in accordance with the Federal Records Act,” the report said.

She won’t be able to frame the FBI investigation, run by President Barack Obama’s Justice Department, as partisan against her. And this week’s seemingly impromptu meeting between Lynch and Bill Clinton was another problem for Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

The meeting happened as Lynch’s plane sat Monday on the tarmac of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport after Clinton attended a fundraiser for his wife’s campaign in the Phoenix area, a campaign source tells CNN’s Brianna Keilar.

John Gomez, deputy chief of staff to Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Gallardo, confirmed that he and 13 other Latino leaders in the community met with Bill Clinton Monday afternoon.

The resulting backlash led Lynch on Friday to publicly declare she would accept the determinations and findings of DOJ career prosecutors and the FBI.

“I certainly wouldn’t do it again because I think it has cast this shadow over what it should not, over what it will not touch,” Lynch said in Aspen, Colorado. “It’s important to make it clear that that meeting with President Clinton does not have a bearing on how this matter will be reviewed and resolved.”

CNN’s Pamela Brown contributed to this report.