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Poll: Email investigation damaged Hillary Clinton's image

WASHINGTON -- Hillary Clinton enters the summer damaged by perceptions that she violated the law by using a private email system while serving as secretary of state, a new Associated Press-GfK poll finds.

More than half of Americans think the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee broke the law by using a private email account and server at the State Department and nearly 4 in 10 think she did so intentionally, according to the poll.

Clinton has battled the notion during her campaign that she is dishonest and purposely set up the private email server because she wanted to hide her public and private exchanges from public scrutiny and skirt disclosure laws. Her Republican opponent, Donald Trump, calls her "crooked" at virtually every campaign appearance.

FBI Director James Comey said last week that Clinton's actions did not warrant prosecution and the Justice Department declined to seek criminal charges. But Comey said the former first lady and New York senator and her staff were "extremely careless" in their handling of classified material.

"She's innocent until proven guilty, but to me the FBI director called her guilty and then gave her a pass card," said James Thompson, a 57-year-old Republican from Colchester, Connecticut. "If that was anyone else in this world, they would have been gone. They would have been down the river. They would have been in jail."

Attorney General: No charges for Hillary Clinton 08:29

Large and growing numbers of voters view Clinton as dishonest, the poll indicates, but she is helped by Trump's poor ratings on an array of personal attributes. The poll showed that two-thirds or more of Americans do not consider the GOP businessman to be even somewhat civil, honest, likable or qualified for office.

Trump is poised to receive the Republican nomination next week at the party's convention in Cleveland. Clinton will rally her supporters later this month in Philadelphia. Her ability to navigate the fallout from the email investigation will be a major plot line during the campaign.

The poll found that 56 percent of Americans said they think the Democratic presidential candidate broke the law, including 39 percent who think she did so intentionally and 17 percent who think she did so unintentionally.

In addition, 36 percent think Clinton used bad judgment but did not do anything illegal. And only 6 percent think Clinton did nothing wrong at all.

Half of Americans -- 50 percent -- now consider Clinton's emails to be a major problem, up from one-third who said that in October 2015. Another 31 percent consider it to be a minor problem and only 17 percent think it's not a problem.

Edgard Lopez, a 61-year-old Democrat from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, who runs a medical device company, said the email investigation was simply an attempt by the GOP to divert "the attention of the important matters for this country."

Lopez said Clinton would benefit from having former President Bill Clinton at her side, someone he considers "the best president this nation has had for many, many years." Lopez, meanwhile, said he considers Trump to be racist and described him as "a rich guy who tried to step on a lot of toes."

"For me, he's a piece of trash," Lopez said.

FBI director defends decision on Clinton email case 07:09

Clinton has sought to turn the issue of trust into a test of who will best address the economic and foreign policy issues that Americans care most about. But the poll showed a stark dividing line between Democrats and Republicans. Seventy-one percent of Republicans think Clinton intentionally broke the law, while another 18 percent think she unintentionally broke the law. Among Democrats, 61 percent think Clinton showed poor judgment but did not break the law, while 11 percent think she did nothing wrong at all.

Republicans are also more likely than Democrats to say Clinton's email use is a major problem, 85 percent to 22 percent. But 49 percent of Democrats say it's a minor problem, while just 29 percent don't think it's a problem at all.

The poll suggests perceptions that Clinton is dishonest, already a major issue for her campaign, are growing. Fifty-five percent of Americans say the word "honest" doesn't describe Clinton well at all, up slightly from 50 percent in April and 44 percent in October 2015.

Another 18 percent say she is only slightly honest.

Thompson, of Connecticut, said he supported neurosurgeon Ben Carson's campaign in the Republican primaries but recently placed a Trump bumper sticker on his car.

"I have come around on Trump just because I think he's being more truthful than Hillary," he said. "The truthfulness is everything. We can't have somebody in office who is going to lie to us."

Americans are slightly more likely to say Trump is at least somewhat honest than Clinton, 30 percent to 24 percent.

While the email investigation has drawn more attention in recent weeks, it remains to be seen if it will remain prominent on the minds of voters in the coming months. Just 32 percent of Americans say they're following the email issue very or extremely closely, but that's up from 21 percent in October of 2015.

The AP-GfK Poll of 1,009 adults was conducted online July 7-11, using a sample drawn from GfK's probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.3 percentage points. Respondents were first selected randomly using telephone or mail survey methods and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn't have access to the internet were provided access for free.

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