Attorney general says she will defer to FBI on Clinton emails

Haiyun Jiang

Attorney General Loretta Lynch says she will accept whatever recommendations FBI investigators and career prosecutors make about the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server.

“I fully expect to accept their recommendations,” Lynch said Friday during a conversation at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado.

{mosads}“I will be accepting their recommendations and their plans for going forward.” 

However, Lynch made clear that the decision to follow the advice of her subordinates is not the same as recusing herself from the case, as some lawmakers and legal experts would have liked.

“A recusal would mean that I wouldn’t even be briefed,” she said. “While I don’t have a role in those findings or coming up with those findings … I will be briefed on it and I will be accepting their recommendations.”

The case will be reviewed by FBI Director James Comey and other senior officials within the Justice Department, she added.  

Lynch made the pledge following an intensely scrutinized private meeting this week with former President Clinton, which many saw as potentially improper given Lynch’s role overseeing the probe into his wife, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

“Certainly my meeting raises questions and concerns,” said Lynch, who has maintained that the discussion was purely social. “Believe me, I completely get that question and I think it is the question of the day.”

“It’s important to make it clear that that meeting with President Clinton does not have a bearing on how this matter is going to be reviewed, resolved and accepted by me,” she said.

“I certainly wouldn’t do it again, because I think it has cast a shadow over what it should not, over what it will not touch.”

Lynch said Friday that she had already decided that she would follow the advice of prosecutors and investigators looking into the Clinton case.  

“I had always determined that that would be the process,” she said.

Critics this week pounced on the attorney general’s 30-minute meeting with Bill Clinton on the tarmac at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport earlier this week.

The private discussion played into the hands of the administration’s opponents, who have previously accused Lynch of being unable to remain neutral in the case.

Some Republicans had already demanded that a special prosecutor be appointed to oversee the investigation, and the calls mounted in the wake of this week’s meeting.

Those critics appear unlikely to be mollified by Lynch’s pledge Friday, given her refusal to entirely hand off oversight of the investigation.

“It’s not just the actual impropriety — it’s the appearance of impropriety,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said on Fox News’s “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren.” 

“And of course it’s another reason why I don’t think Loretta Lynch should take the lead in this investigation.”

A handful of Democrats, too, cast side-eye on the event, which Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) described as an error in judgment.

The ongoing investigation into Clinton’s server at the Department of State, which began nearly a year ago, is exploring whether the unusual setup violated federal laws for protecting sensitive information. Roughly 7 percent of the material on the machine has now been deemed classified at some level, and 22 of the messages have been deemed top secret — the highest level of classification.

Watchers have been expecting a conclusion of the investigation for several weeks. Multiple senior Clinton aides have reportedly been interviewed as part of the probe, but Clinton herself has not.  

As the investigation reaches a likely conclusion, there are some indications that the FBI and federal prosecutors are not entirely on the same page.

The Washington Post reported in May that an FBI investigator raised an issue while interviewing Clinton’s former chief off staff, Cheryl Mills, that both Mills and the Justice Department had agreed would be off-limits. The report described prosecutors as being “somewhat taken aback” that the FBI would broach the issue

During the episode, Mills and her lawyer reportedly left the room and returned shortly afterwards.

Federal prosecutors and the FBI have split on high-profile cases in the past. While pursuing charges against former CIA Director David Petreaus for leaking classified material to his mistress and biographer, the FBI is reported to have pushed for multiple felonies, but prosecutors ended up offering him a misdemeanor plea deal.

—Updated at 11:47 a.m.

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