GOP rips into Lynch, who refuses to discuss details in Clinton case

Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Tuesday refused to discuss her decision not to press charges against Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPence: Chief Justice Roberts 'has been a disappointment to conservatives' Top federal official says more details coming on foreign election interference The Hill's Campaign Report: COVID-19 puts conventions in flux  MORE or her aides for mishandling classified information, outraging congressional Republicans.

The attorney general repeatedly declined to address details of the Clinton case during nearly five hours of testimony to the House Judiciary Committee. That stance drew scorn from GOP lawmakers, who accused her of stonewalling.

“Your refusal to answer questions regarding one of the most important investigations of someone who seeks to serve in the highest office in this land is an abdication of your responsibility,” Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlattePress: Trump's final presidential pardon: himself USCIS chief Cuccinelli blames Paul Ryan for immigration inaction Immigrant advocacy groups shouldn't be opposing Trump's raids MORE (R-Va.) said midway through the hearing. “This is a very important issue about whether or not the Justice Department is going to uphold the rule of law in this country.

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“You are the chief law enforcement officer of the United States, and the final decision regarding the prosecution is yours,” Goodlatte added as the hearing adjourned. “The fact that you were not able to provide us with answers regarding how that decision was reached is very concerning to members of this committee and the American public.”

Lynch referred questions to the FBI, declined to answer and otherwise dodged questions about specifics of the case at least 74 times, according to Rep. Dave Trott (R-Mich.), who said he was keeping track.

“I apologize for wasting so much time here, because it has not been very productive,” Trott said.

Lynch’s appearance Tuesday came just a few days after FBI Director James Comey faced an even rougher reception before the House Oversight Committee for his decision not to recommend charges against Clinton, the former secretary of State. The Justice Department’s decision was based on the unanimous recommendation of FBI investigators and federal prosecutors, Comey said.

But whereas Comey walked point by point through his legal reasoning while sparring with Republicans, Lynch refused to dip even a toe into the water.

“While I understand that this investigation has generated significant public interest, as attorney general, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further on the underlying facts of the investigation or the legal basis for the team’s recommendation,” she said in her opening statement.

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Over the next several hours, she would repeat some version of that statement dozens of times.

“You’ve been very good at burning up the time and stonewalling,” said Rep. Blake FarentholdRandolph (Blake) Blake FarentholdThe biggest political upsets of the decade Members spar over sexual harassment training deadline Female Dems see double standard in Klobuchar accusations MORE (R-Texas). 

“I never thought I’d say this ... I miss Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderObamas discuss pandemic, voting, anxiety and community in new podcast Joy Reid debut delivers 2.6 million viewers for MSNBC The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Facebook — Republicans rejigger summer convention plans MORE.” Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) said.

While House Republicans clashed bitterly with Holder, Lynch’s predecessor, “at least when he came here, he gave us answers,” Collins said.

Democrats refused to participate in the GOP’s line of questioning about Clinton’s email scandal, dismissing their focus as politically motivated ahead of the Republican National Convention next week. Clinton is the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

“We’re beating a dead horse here for political reasons,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.).

Lofgren and other Democrats used their time to question Lynch about several other issues, including the outbreak of police-related violence, gun control and immigration.

The attorney general’s refusal to answer questions about the FBI’s recommendation reflects the tightrope she has been forced to walk in the Clinton case.

Lynch’s impartiality came into question after she had a private meeting with Clinton’s husband, Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonA political hero is born in Ohio: America needs more Tyler Ferhmans Presidents, crises and revelations Biden needs to bring religious Americans into the Democratic fold MORE, on an airport tarmac in Phoenix.

In the ensuing uproar, Lynch effectively took herself out of the case by stating that she would accept the FBI’s recommendation on whether to pursue charges against the former first lady.

Still, although she acknowledged that the airport meeting was a mistake, Lynch refused to completely recuse herself from the case, citing the precedent that it would set for high-profile cases going forward. 

The attorney general tried to argue Tuesday that while she had chosen to accept the FBI’s recommendation, she still maintained ultimate ownership of the decision not to levy charges — a distinction Republicans characterized as preposterous.

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“If you commit and announce that you’ll abide by the FBI’s decision before they’ve even finished their investigation, then how can you say that ultimately it was your decision?” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) asked.

“You are in charge of the Department of Justice. The buck stops with you. And I am concerned that you keep on saying that you have deferred the authority that by law is yours to Director Comey,” Rep. Jim SensenbrennerFrank (Jim) James SensenbrennerHillicon Valley: House panel grills tech CEOs during much anticipated antitrust hearing | TikTok to make code public as it pushes back against 'misinformation' | House Intel panel expands access to foreign disinformation evidence Five takeaways as panel grills tech CEOs Jordan confronts tech CEOs over claims of anti-conservative bias MORE (R-Wis.) said. 

The attacks were something of a reversal for Republicans, who had long argued that Lynch — a onetime political appointee under former President Clinton — shouldn’t be part of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while at State. 

Last year, 44 congressional Republicans asked the Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor to oversee the investigation.

In the wake of her announcement that she would defer to the FBI, some critics of Lynch saw a glimmer of hope that Comey, a longtime Republican, might be emboldened to recommend charges.

But Republicans argued Tuesday that Lynch’s decision to take a back seat was evidence of a double standard for the Clintons.

“Your actions contributed to this belief that the system is rigged,” Jordan said, after pressing Lynch to admit that she had not made a similar statement in any other case.

“You showed that this case was different, and the law is supposed to treat every single person the same. Your announcement, by definition, made this thing entirely different.”