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Clinton Email Probe Faces Serious Political Consequences

FILE - A portion of an email sent to Hillary Clinton's private email account when she was secretary of state and released by the State Department on Sept. 30, 2015. The released emails show Russia-linked hackers tried at least five times to pry into Clinton's private account.

The Justice Department will have to decide whether Hillary Clinton or any of her subordinates could face legal consequences for her use of a private email server, a decision whose timing has serious political repercussions.

The Obama administration is in the unenviable position of conducting an election-year probe that, no matter the outcome, will result in grievances about its impact on the presidential election. Clinton has emerged from this week's Super Tuesday primaries as the presumptive Democratic nominee.

One year ago, The Associated Press reported its discovery of Clinton's private email server, which she ran in the basement of her home in New York, to use exclusively for her work-related emails while she was secretary of state.

Republican candidate Donald Trump has indicated he plans to target Clinton over the email investigations. Trump said Thursday he looked forward to running against Clinton, "assuming she's allowed to run, assuming she's not arrested for the email situation."

The FBI for months has investigated whether sensitive information that flowed through Clinton's email server was mishandled. The State Department has acknowledged that some emails included classified information, including at the top-secret level, though Clinton has said she never sent or received anything that was marked classified at the time. The inspectors general at the State Department and the U.S. intelligence community are separately investigating whether rules or laws were broken.

"The best the Justice Department can do is try to accept that there will be political noise no matter what, and try to figure out what makes the most sense from their institutional perspective," said Stephen Vladeck, an American University law professor and national security expert who has followed the case.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the Justice Department has granted immunity to the staffer who set up the server, Bryan Pagliano, so that he would be willing to speak with investigators. Pagliano had previously asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to refuse to answer questions from lawmakers investigating the server setup.

A spokesman for the Clinton campaign, Brian Fallon, said the campaign is pleased Pagliano is cooperating. Fallon said Clinton herself has offered to meet with investigators.

Though it's extraordinary for a presidential candidate to be implicated in a federal investigation, there are instances of it happening to elected officials during campaigns.