Something to contemplate.
EITHER IT WAS A QUICKIE OR THEY WERE DISCUSSING THE CRIMINAL CASE INVOLVING HILLARY. EITHER ONE IS BAD. LYNCH SHOULD RESIGN.
WASHINGTON — Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, conceding that her airport meeting with former President Bill Clinton this week had cast a shadow over a federal investigation of Hillary Clinton’s personal email account, said Friday that she would accept whatever recommendations that career prosecutors and the F.B.I. director make about whether to bring charges in the case.
“I will be accepting their recommendations,” Ms. Lynch said in an appearance at the Aspen Ideas Festival. She said that “the case will be resolved by the same team that has been working on it from the beginning.”
The attorney general said she had decided several months ago to defer to the recommendations of her staff and of the director of the F.B.I. because her status as a political appointee sitting in judgment on a politically charged case would raise questions of a conflict of interest.
The meeting with Mr. Clinton, she acknowledged, only deepened those questions, and she said she felt compelled to publicly explain her reasoning to try to put concerns to rest.
“I think that people have a whole host of reasons to have questions about how we in government do our business, and how we handle business and how we handle matters,” Ms. Lynch said. “And I think that, again, I understand that my meeting on the plane with former President Clinton could give them another reason to have questions and concerns.”
While she insisted that the meeting was a purely social encounter, Ms. Lynch said, “I certainly wouldn’t do it again.”
Ms. Lynch described the questions raised by her meeting as personally distressing for her because they stained the reputation of the Justice Department. “The fact that the meeting that I had is now casting a shadow over how people are going to view that work is something that I take seriously, and deeply and painfully,” she said.
Republicans said the meeting, which took place at the Phoenix airport, had compromised the independence of the investigation as the F.B.I. was winding it down. Some called for Ms. Lynch to recuse herself, but she did not take herself off the case — one that could influence a presidential election.
Ms. Lynch said she wants to handle the Clinton investigation like any other case. Since the attorney general often follows the recommendations of career prosecutors, Ms. Lynch is keeping the regular process largely intact.
The F.B.I. is investigating whether Mrs. Clinton, her aides or anyone else broke the law by setting up a private email server for her to use as secretary of state. Internal investigators have concluded that the server was used to send classified information, and Republicans have seized on the matter to question Mrs. Clinton’s judgment.
For the Justice Department, the central question is whether the conduct met the legal standard for the crime of mishandling classified information.
Ms. Lynch said that the meeting with Mr. Clinton was unplanned, largely social and did not touch on the email investigation. She suggested that he walked uninvited from his plane to her government plane, both of which were parked on a tarmac at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Mr. Clinton first appointed Ms. Lynch as a United States attorney in 1999.
“He said hello and we basically said hello, and congratulated him on his grandchildren, as people do,” she said on Friday. “That led to a conversation about those grandchildren.”
Ms. Lynch’s account has not mollified Republican lawmakers, who said the meeting raised questions about the integrity of the government’s investigation.
“In light of the apparent conflicts of interest, I have called repeatedly on Attorney General Lynch to appoint a special counsel to ensure the investigation is as far from politics as possible,” Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas and a member of the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement on Thursday.
The meeting created an awkward situation for Ms. Lynch, a veteran prosecutor who was nominated from outside Washington’s normal political circles. In her confirmation, her allies repeatedly sought to contrast her with her predecessor, Eric H. Holder Jr., an outspoken liberal voice in the administration who clashed frequently with Republicans who accused him of politicizing the office.
Her reassurance that she will not overrule her investigators is significant. When the F.B.I. sought to bring felony charges against David H. Petraeus, the former C.I.A. director, for mishandling classified information and lying about it, Mr. Holder stepped in and reduced the charge to a misdemeanor. That decision created a deep — and public — rift.
The F.B.I. is expected to make a recommendation to the Justice Department in the coming weeks, though agents have yet to interview Mrs. Clinton. While some legal experts said they believed that criminal indictments in the case were unlikely, the investigation continues to cast a shadow over Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Donald J. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, seized on the private encounter, describing it in a radio interview as a “sneak” meeting and saying it exposed the rigged nature of the process.
Even some Democrats criticized the meeting. “It doesn’t send the right signal,” Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, said in response to a question on CNN’s “New Day.” While he said he believed that Ms. Lynch was an independent prosecutor, “I think she should have steered clear, even of a brief, casual, social meeting with the former president.”
Beyond the day-to-day workings of the Justice Department, there is precedent for explicitly relying on career officials to make politically charged decisions. When the Justice Department was considering whether to recommend sanctions against former Bush administration lawyers who approved waterboarding, Mr. Holder relied on his most senior career prosecutor to make the decision. No sanctions were recommended.