Pressure on Lynch to step aside in Clinton email probe

Pressure on Lynch to step aside in Clinton email probe
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Loretta Lynch is on the edge of the spotlight, about to be dragged to the center. 

If the FBI finds sufficient evidence to launch a criminal investigation into Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonAssange meets U.S. congressman, vows to prove Russia did not leak him documents High-ranking FBI official leaves Russia probe OPINION | Steve Bannon is Trump's indispensable man — don't sacrifice him to the critics MORE or one of her top aides for mishandling classified information, Lynch’s Justice Department will have to decide whether to press ahead.

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Even if no evidence of wrongdoing is found, Clinton’s many critics are unlikely to take the word of an appointee of President Obama’s and will doubt that justice has been served.

Already, top Republicans are calling for a special prosecutor to be brought in and evaluate the situation.

No. 2 Senate Republican John CornynJohn CornynImmigration battlefield widens for Trump, GOP Congressional investigations — not just special counsels — strengthen our democracy Wrath of right falls on Google MORE (Texas) took to the floor of the Senate last week to call for a special counsel to be appointed “because of the conflict of interest by asking Attorney General Lynch to investigate and perhaps even prosecute somebody in the Obama administration.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyWhite House clarifies: We condemn all violence Republican lawmakers criticize Trump response to Charlottesville Grassley reverses ‘expectation’ of Supreme Court vacancy this year MORE (R-Iowa) agrees that Lynch ought to consider a special counsel, a representative said, to reassure the country that decisions are made “without regard to any political considerations.”

The Justice Department, however, has so far declined the request.

“This matter is being reviewed by career attorneys and investigators and does not meet the criteria for the appointment of a special prosecutor,” department spokeswoman Melanie Newman said in a statement.

Federal officials are currently investigating the security of Clinton’s bespoke email arrangement and whether classified information may have been mishandled.

Critics of Clinton have called for indictments to be handed down following revelations that more than 1,500 classified emails — including 22 classified at the highest level — were found on her personal server. None of the messages were marked as classified, and accounts differ as to whether they should have been classified at the time they were sent. 

During a Democratic presidential debate last week, Clinton insisted that she was “100 percent confident” that the FBI’s review will not evolve into a criminal matter.

Instead, she and other Democrats have decried the criticism about the emails as simple political gamesmanship designed to drag down her presidential campaign.

“I think the American people will know it’s an absurdity, and I have absolutely no concerns about it whatsoever,” said Clinton.

Lynch’s critics are unconvinced that the attorney general can be a neutral arbiter.

“I think they probably won’t indict her, because the attorney general is from New York, who I believe is a friend of Hillary Clinton,” Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpAssange meets U.S. congressman, vows to prove Russia did not leak him documents A history lesson on the Confederacy for President Trump GOP senator: Trump hasn't 'changed much' since campaign MORE, a leading Republican presidential candidate, said on Fox News’s “Fox and Friends” in October.

Skeptics of Lynch have also pointed to an October interview in which President Obama appeared to dismiss concerns about Clinton’s private server.

“I can tell you that this is not a situation in which America's national security was endangered,” Obama said on CBS’s “60 Minutes.”

“It might appear that he’s trying to influence the conduct of the investigation,” Cornyn said on the Senate floor this week. “That’s a real problem.”

No close ties

Lynch and Clinton never had much of a personal relationship, former colleagues told The Hill in recent days. 

“I’m not aware of any relationship with Hillary Clinton,” said Steven Edwards, who worked alongside Lynch for nearly a decade at the law firm Hogan Lovells (the firm was previously called Hogan & Hartson when Lynch joined it in 2001).

Lynch was appointed to be the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York in 1999 by President Bill ClintonBill ClintonCongress needs to assert the war power against a dangerous president House Dems push to censure Trump over Charlottesville response Too many Americans with insurance are being denied coverage MORE, Hillary’s husband.

However, she was personally recommended for the position by Sen. Chuck SchumerCharles SchumerDemocrats urge Trump to condemn Charlottesville violence Melania Trump on Charlottesville protests: 'No good comes from violence' It's time for McConnell to fight with Trump instead of against him MORE (D-N.Y.), and one government official said Clinton himself had a relatively minor role in the selection process. 

For a period of months, she also worked as the district’s top prosecutor while Hillary Clinton was serving as the junior senator from New York, until Lynch left for private practice in 2001.

Lynch would return to become the U.S. attorney in 2010, before she was tapped to be the nation’s top law enforcement official last year.

But unlike some U.S. attorneys — such as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani or Preet Bharara, the current U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York — Lynch never appeared to glad-hand with politicians, former colleagues say.

“I worked with her very closely and you know, I’ve got lots of partners who, when we chitchat, talk about their involvement in political campaigns or their lunches with people in Washington,” said Dennis Tracey, a partner at Hogan Lovells who worked with Lynch. “But she never did.”

“If Rudy is at one end of the spectrum, Loretta is at the other one, in terms of being political,” echoed Edwards, who is now at Quinn Emanuel. “She is a very, very cautious person and doesn’t operate that way.” 

Lynch’s own future

Lingering in the background is the prospect that Lynch’s decision may affect her own future.

Lynch was confirmed by the Senate last year after a five-month delay largely unrelated to her own qualifications. That left the nation’s top lawyer with just a year and a half in office, during Obama’s lame duck period in which policy efforts are likely to stall.

If Clinton becomes the next president, however, Lynch may be asked to stay on, at least for a short time. As such, she may have a little bit of skin in the game.

“That Hillary Clinton could be the Democrat nominee and potential next president represents an extraordinary circumstance that commends the appointment of a special counsel,” said Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), the head of the House Oversight subcommittee on national security, in a statement to The Hill. “For a Democrat-appointed attorney general such as Lynch, this is obviously something that distinguishes the Clinton investigation from other cases.”
               
Along with 43 other Republicans, DeSantis wrote a letter to the Justice Department last year asking for a special counsel to be appointed so that the investigation can be conducted “impartially.”

Former colleagues of Lynch rejected the notion that she would be biased in the Clinton probe.

“I cannot imagine allowing any personal relationship to affect her work. It’s just not the way she is,” said Tracey. 

Special prosecutor

So far, the Justice Department has declined congressional requests to appoint a special prosecutor to oversee the Clinton issue.

In a letter to DeSantis in November, assistant attorney general Peter Kadzik said that the law allowing for a special counsel “has rarely been used.”

“Any investigation related to this referral [into Clinton’s server] will be conducted by law enforcement professionals and career attorneys in accordance with established department policies and procedures designed to ensure the integrity of all ongoing investigations,” Kadzik wrote.

The FBI has refused to share details about its investigation. So far, however, the bureau does not appear to be conducting a criminal probe, and officials have said it is not directly targeting Clinton.

Multiple lawyers watching the case have suggested that Clinton’s top aides may be in more trouble than she is.

As one former senior Justice Department official noted, there are many options for the government to take apart from either nothing or an indictment against Clinton.

“It could play out with people agreeing to plead to … a misdemeanor charge, people agreeing to leave office or withdraw in return for a pardon,” the former official said.

“I think ultimately, one of those events is going to happen,” the former official added. 

“It’s not going to be forgotten about.”