Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Friday that she planned to take a step back in the case involving the handling of sensitive information stored on Hillary Clinton’s personal email server but would not flat-out recuse herself.
Lynch said she still intended to review the case but expected to accept the recommendation of investigators and prosecutors at the FBI and Justice Department.
“The recommendations will be reviewed by career supervisors in the Department of Justice and in the FBI, and by the FBI director, and then, as is the common process, they present it to me and I fully expect to accept their recommendations,” Lynch said while speaking at the Aspen Ideas Festival.
Lynch has been under fire for days for meeting with Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, amid the yearlong FBI investigation.
“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,” Lynch said.
She said Friday that she had already decided to accept the recommendation, whatever it was, before the meeting with Bill Clinton. But she said that given another chance at meeting with the former president, she would decline.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that President Barack Obama, who recently endorsed Hillary Clinton, and the White House were not involved in Lynch’s decision.
The president’s expectation is that this investigation will be handled just like all the others, which is that the investigators will be guided by the facts, they will follow the evidence and they will reach a conclusion based on that evidence. And nothing else.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest
Clinton, who will officially accept the Democratic Party’s nomination for president this month, has been dogged for more than a year for exclusively using personal email routed through a private server while serving as the nation’s top diplomat.
Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, seized on the Lynch-Clinton meeting Friday.
“The Obama administration’s top law enforcement official made clear that she would not recuse herself from the FBI criminal investigation into Clinton’s secret server that put the whole country at risk – even after her secret confab with Bill Clinton was exposed,” his campaign said in a statement. “This raises even more questions about potential political pressure, interference and bias.”
At least 2,079 emails that Clinton sent or received contained classified material, according to a State Department review of emails she turned over after she’d left the department. Most were at the confidential level, which is the lowest level of classification, but a handful were at the top-secret level.
None of Clinton’s emails was marked as classified during her tenure, State Department officials say, but intelligence officials say some material was clearly classified at the time.
The investigation includes her top aides, including those who also sent and received classified information. Several of them have reportedly been interviewed by the FBI, including former Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills and former Deputy Chief of Staff Huma Abedin. Clinton has not been interviewed.
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Lynch has resisted pressure by Republican lawmakers to appoint a special prosecutor in the case. She said Friday that she still planned on reviewing the case and would not recuse herself.
“This incident does nothing to instill confidence in the American people that her department can fully and fairly conduct this investigation, and that’s why a special counsel is needed now more than ever,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said in a statement.
Bill Clinton, who nominated Lynch to be the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District in 1999, met privately with her for about 30 minutes aboard her plane while the two were in the Phoenix area Monday. He was leaving Phoenix when he was told Lynch would be arriving at the airport soon and waited for her. Lynch was in the area as part of a national tour to promote community policing.
It's important to make it clear that that meeting with President Clinton does not have a bearing on how this matter will be reviewed, resolved and accepted by me. Because that is the question that it raises.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch
“I do think that this meeting . . . sends the wrong signal and I don’t think it sends the right signal,” Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said Thursday on CNN. “I think she should have steered clear, even of a brief, casual, social meeting with the former president. . . . I think she should have said, ‘Look, I recognize you have a long record of leadership on fighting crime, but this is not the time for us to have that conversation. After the election is over, I’d welcome your advice and input.’ ”
David Axelrod, a former adviser to President Barack Obama, tweeted that he takes Lynch and Bill Clinton “at their word that their convo in Phoenix didn’t touch on probe. But foolish to create such optics.”
Lynch, who was traveling with her husband, said she’d spoken with Bill Clinton about their grandchildren, golf and former Attorney General Janet Reno. She described the meeting as social and unplanned.
“The notion that the prosecutor, the person who runs the Justice Department, would spend 30 minutes in a private conversation with the spouse of someone her department is investigating raises all sorts of red flags, and even Democrats have admitted it,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. told a Miami radio station this week.
Lesley Clark contributed to this article.