White House: FBI director 'is in a tough spot,' Obama doesn't believe he's trying to influence election

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White House spokesman Josh Earnest declined to give his opinion Monday on FBI Director James Comey's decision to notify Congress that the bureau had reopened its investigation into Hillary Clinton's private email server except to say that Comey was in a "tough spot."

Comey has faced criticism for sending the letter despite a longstanding precedent of the FBI declining to comment on ongoing investigations. He said in a letter to his employees that he felt an "obligation" to tell Congress about the investigation because he "testified repeatedly in recent months that our investigation was completed."

But Earnest signaled a bit of a departure from the Democratic line, saying Comey was a "man of integrity" and that President Barack Obama doesn't believe he would try to influence an election.

James Comey through the years

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James Comey through the years
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James Comey through the years
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District James Comey, fields questions in New York after he announced the arrest of Alimzan Tokhtakhounov in Italy on U.S. charges that he tried to fix the pairs and ice dancing figure skating competitions at the Salt Lake City Olympics Wednesday, July 31, 2002. In the backround right is Greg Jones, acting assistant director of the FBI for the New York office. (AP Photo/Louis Lanzano)
James Comey, U.S. Attorney, Southern District of New York, right, speaks at a news conference about the arraignment of the three men charged with wire fraud conspiracy for allegedly tampering with bets made at tracks and Off Track Betting parlors, at U.S. District Court in White Plains, N.Y., Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2002. New York State Police Superintendent James McMahon stands at left. (AP Photo/Louis Lanzano)
U.S. Attorney James Comey, left, announces to the media Thursday, Sept. 4, 2003, in New York a seven count indictment charging John Youngdahl, a former V.P. and Senior Economist at Goldman Sachs & Company with conspiracy, wire fraud and securities fraud, among other charges, in connection with confidential information about the Treasury Department's plan to end sales of 30-year bonds. In the backround is Thomas Van De Merlen, center, Assistant New York Inspector in charge of the U.S Postal Inspection Service and Stephen Cutler, right, with the Division of Enforcement of the SEC. (AP Photo/ Louis Lanzano)
Deputy Attorney General James Comey, second left, with Drug Enforcement Administration chief Karen Tandy, second right, Internal Revenue Service Deputy Chief of Criminal Investigations Richard Speier, left, and Raf Souccar, Chief Superintendent and Director General of Drugs and Organized Crime, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, right, speaks to the press during a news conference announcing the rounding up of 170 people in the United States and Canada who they said were part of a distribution ring responsible for 15 percent of all the Ecstasy smuggled into this country, in Washington, March 31, 2004. The two-year investigation, dubbed "Operation Candy Box," culminated in the arrests of nearly the entire trafficking operation, from kingpins to couriers. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey, head of the Justice Department's corporate fraud task force, discusses charges against Enron chief executive Jeffrey Skilling, in Washington at the Department of Justice, Thursday, Feb. 19, 2004. Skilling, who resigned months before the company shattered in scandal, surrendered Thursday and pleaded innocent to more than three dozen federal charges in the company's collapse. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Deputy Attorney General James Comey holds a news conference in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 5, 2004, in Washington, regarding the arrest of two leaders of a mosque in Albany, N.Y., allegedly involved in a scheme to buy a shoulder-fired missile. Court papers filed in the case alleged that the weapon was to be used to assassinate the Pakistani ambassador at that country's consulate across from the United Nations in New York. (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson)
FBI Director James Comey speaks speaks during the Annual International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference, Monday, Oct. 21, 2013, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
FBI Director nominee James Comey is sworn in on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 9, 2013, prior to testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing on his nomination. Comey spent 15 years as a federal prosecutor before serving in the George W. Bush administration, where he is best known for facing down the White House over a warrantless surveillance program. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Attorney General Eric Holder, second from left, shakes hands with newly sworn in FBI Director James Comey at the Justice Department in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013. Chuck Rosenberg holds the bible and Deputy Attorney General James Cole watches at left. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Barack Obama smiles as he announces the nomination of James Comey, left, a senior Justice Department official under President George W. Bush, to replace Robert Mueller as FBI director, Friday, June 21, 2013, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
FBI Director Robert Mueller, left, acknowledges the applause from President Barack Obama and the president's nominee to replace Mueller , James Comey, center, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Friday, June 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
FILE - In this July 9, 2013 file photo, FBI Director nominee James Comey testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. The Senate overwhelmingly confirmed Comey Monday, July 29, 2013, to become FBI director after Sen. Rand Paul ended delaying tactics against the nomination because of concerns about the domestic use of drones. Monday's 93-1 vote put Comey in line to succeed Robert Mueller, who is stepping down in September after 12 years heading the agency. Paul was the only no vote. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
FBI Director nominee James Comey prepares to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 9, 2013, before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination. Comey spent 15 years as a federal prosecutor before serving in the George W. Bush administration, where he is best known for facing down the White House over a warrantless surveillance program. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Barack Obama, left, waves as he stands with newly installed FBI Director James Comey, right, during the installation ceremony of Comey as the new FBI Director at FBI Headquarters in Washington, Monday, Oct. 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Newly installed FBI Director James Comey speaks during his installation ceremony at FBI Headquarters in Washington, Monday, Oct. 28, 2013. Comey, a former Bush administration official who defiantly refused to go along with White House demands on warrantless wiretapping nearly a decade ago, took over last month for Robert Mueller, who stepped down after 12 years as agency director. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Barack Obama, right, listens as James Comey, left, speaks during the installation ceremony of Comey as the new FBI Director at FBI Headquarters in Washington, Monday, Oct. 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
This Oct. 31, 2013 photo shows James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, talking to reporters during a news conference in Sacramento, Calif. An ongoing federal investigation of a California senator is roiling the Democratic leadership in Sacramento and threatens to complicate relations in the majority party when lawmakers reconvene in January. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
FBI Director James Comey, right, talks to Spain's Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz, left, during a meeting in Madrid, Spain, Monday, Dec. 9, 2013. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)
From left, FBI Director James Comey, CIA Director John Brennan, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper sit together in the front row before President Barack Obama spoke about National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance, Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, at the Justice Department in Washington. The president called for ending the government's control of phone data from millions of Americans. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Dir. of National Intelligence James Clapper, center, testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014. Joining Clapper on the panel are from left to right, National Counterterrorism Center Dir. Matthen Olsen, FBI Dir. James Comey, CIA Dir. John Brennan, and Defense Intelligence Agency Dir. Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
FBI Director James Comey speaks during a news conference at the FBI Omaha Field Office in Omaha, Neb., as agency employees line the balconies above, and local law enforcement leaders stand behind him, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. Comey will tour the agency's Omaha Field Office and meet with local law enforcement leaders. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James B. Comey listens to a question from a reporter during a media conference Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
FBI Director James Comey testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 21, 2104, before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the oversight of the FBI. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
FBI Director James Comey speaks on during a news conference at the bureau's Salt Lake City office Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, in Salt Lake City. Comey met with state and local law enforcement leaders from Utah, Idaho and Montana during a visit to Utah Tuesday. Comey spoke to the media during his visit, part of a national tour of FBI offices. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
FBI director James Comey speaks to the media during a visit to the agencyâs Atlanta field office, Friday, Aug. 22, 2014, in Atlanta. The FBI director says the participation of Americans and Europeans in Islamist extremist activities in Syria and Iraq is worrisome, but that his agency is committed to making sure they donât carry out attacks in the U.S. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey, testifies before the House Homeland Security Full Committee, during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
In this photo taken Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014, FBI Director James B. Comey speaks at a news conference during a visit to Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
FBI Director James B. Comey, right, is joined by U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall during a news conference in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014. Comey spoke after the sentencing in federal court of Mohamed Mohamud, who was convicted last year of a terrorism charge. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)
FBI Director James Comey speaks about the impact of technology on law enforcement, Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014, at Brookings Institution in Washington. Comey gave a stark warning Thursday against smartphone data encryption, saying homicide cases could be stalled, suspects could go free and âjustice may be denied because of a locked phone or an encrypted hard drive.â (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
FBI Director James Comey takes questions from members of the media during a news conference, Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014, in Boston. Comey is visiting the Boston division to meet with employees and law enforcement partners and talk about the FBI's priorities. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
FBI Director James Comey speaks about the impact of technology on law enforcement, Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014, at Brookings Institution in Washington. Comey gave a stark warning Thursday against smartphone data encryption, saying homicide cases could be stalled, suspects could go free and âjustice may be denied because of a locked phone or an encrypted hard drive.â (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
In this July 8, 2015, photo, FBI Director James Comey testifies during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. The FBI stopped several potential acts of violence in the month before the July 4 weekend, Comey said on July 9. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
FBI Director James Comey takes questions from members of the media during a news conference, Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014, in Boston. Comey is visiting the Boston division to meet with employees and law enforcement partners and talk about the FBI's priorities. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
FBI Director James Comey speaks to the media during a news conference at the FBI offices in Cincinnati, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015. Comey said Wednesday the recruitment of potential homegrown terrorists by the Islamic State group is widespread and goes on "24 hours a day" across the United States. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
FBI Director James Comey attends a news conference at the FBI offices in Cincinnati, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015. Comey said Wednesday the recruitment of potential homegrown terrorists by the Islamic State group is widespread and goes on "24 hours a day" across the United States. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
FBI director James Comey responds to a question during a panel discussion on race and policy, at the University of Chicago law school. Friday, Oct. 23, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
FBI Director James Comey answers questions during a news conference at the FBI office in Nashville, Tenn., Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. Comey said the killing of four Marines and a sailor in an attack on Chattanooga's U.S. Naval and Marine Reserve Center in July is still under investigation. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
FBI director James Comey responds to a question during a panel discussion on race and policy, at the University of Chicago law school. Friday, Oct. 23, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
FBI Director James Comey prepares to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015, before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing: "Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation." (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Photo by: Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IPx 12/16/15 FBI Director James Comey at a press conference to discuss terrorism. (NYC)
In this photo made on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016, an image of James B. Comey, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, right, arrives with Scott S. Smith special agent in charge of the FBI's Pittsburgh Division for a news conference at the Martha Dixon FBI Field Office in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
FBI Director James Comey, testifies before a House Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee budget hearing about the Federal Bureau of Investigation's FY 2017 budget, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
FBI Director James Comey addresses the media after visiting with employees and other law enforcement officials, Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
FBI Directory James Comey applauds in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, May 16, 2016, during a Medal of Valor ceremony. The Medal of Valor is awarded to public safety officers who have exhibited exceptional courage, regardless of personal safety, in the attempt to save or protect others from harm.(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
FILE - In this March 1, 2016 file photo, FBI Director James Comey testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. Working to protect Americans' civil rights is in some ways more difficult today because of an assumption that advances mean the fight for equality has been settled, Comey said Wednesday, May 25, 2016, in Birmingham, Ala. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)
FBI Director James Comey, right, listens to President Barack Obama, left, speak to members of the media in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Monday, June 13, 2016, after receiving an update on the massacre at an Orlando nightclub. Comey says the gunman in the Orlando nightclub attack that killed 49 people had "strong indications of radicalization" and was likely inspired by foreign terrorist organizations. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
FBI Director James Comey testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 7, 2016, before the House Oversight Committee to explain his agency's recommendation to not prosecute Hillary Clinton, now the Democratic presidential candidate, over her private email setup during her time as secretary of state, . (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
FBI Director James Comey testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 7, 2016, before the House Oversight Committee to explain his agency's recommendation to not prosecute Hillary Clinton, now the Democratic presidential candidate, over her private email setup during her time as secretary of state, . (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
FBI Director James Comey testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 7, 2016, before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to explain his agency's recommendation to not prosecute Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton over her private email setup during her time as secretary of state. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
FBI Director James Comey, right, and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson prepare to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 14, 2016, before the House Homeland Security Committee hearing on "Worldwide Threats to the Homeland: ISIS and the New Wave of Terror." (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Barack Obama, center, with Attorney General Loretta Lynch, left, and FBI Director James Comey, right, sit during their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, July 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
FBI Director James Comey testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016, before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on 'Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.' (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
FILE - In this July 14, 2016 file photo, FBI Director James Comey testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. The FBI informed Congress Friday, Oct. 28, 2016, it is investigating whether there is classified information in new emails that have emerged in its probe of Hillary Clinton's private server. The FBI said in July its investigation was finished. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
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"He's in a tough spot," Earnest said of Comey at a White House press briefing Monday. "And he's the one who will be in a position to defend his actions in the face of significant criticism from a variety of legal experts, including individuals who served in senior Department of Justice positions in administrations that were led by presidents of both parties."

Earnest defended Comey even as he said he could not "defend or criticize" his decision to write the letter to Congress.

"What I have observed in the past is that Director Comey is a man of integrity, he's a man of principle," Earnest said. "He's a man who's well-regarded by senior officials of both parties."

Earnest also made clear that Obama doesn't think that Comey is trying to compromise the election.

"The president's assessment of his integrity and his character has not changed," Earnest said. "For example, the president doesn't believe that Director Comey is intentionally trying to influence the outcome of an election. The president doesn't believe that he's secretly strategizing to benefit one candidate or one political party."

Earnest also noted that Congress isn't exactly unbiased.

"There is a tendency to say, 'Well, Congress is independent and they have their own independent oversight responsibilities to exercise over the Department of Justice.' ... Congress is indeed independent of the executive branch, but they're far from impartial," Earnest said. "Congress is made up of 535 politicians, Democrats and Republicans. And we're already seen just in the last 72 hours the kind of risk that's associated with communicating to them sensitive information."

Comey announced last week that the FBI is now reviewing new documents it said were "pertinent" to its investigation of Democratic presidential nominee Clinton's private email server. Comey had previously announced in July that the investigation was closed.

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SEE ALSO: Clinton campaign blasts FBI Director Comey: 'There's no reason he had to send this letter'

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