NEW YORK, NY — In the course of the investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, serious questions have been raised about the possibility that former Attorney General Loretta Lynch may have engaged in wrongdoing with regard to the FBI’s criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.
There are three main issues surrounding Lynch’s possible misdeeds in the Clinton email probe.
One is Lynch’s infamous tarmac meeting last June at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in which former President Bill Clinton, the husband of the FBI’s main subject in a criminal probe — Hillary’s email case — boarded the attorney general’s plane and reportedly stayed there for about thirty minutes for a private chat.
The second concern is Lynch’s reported directive for then-FBI Director James Comey to publically refer to the FBI’s criminal investigation into Clinton’s email as a “matter” instead of an investigation or a criminal probe. The language matched the specific rhetoric used at the time by Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, which referred to the criminal investigation as a “matter.”
The third issue relates to testimony and questions surrounding reports claiming that Comey was in possession of a document purportedly indicating that Lynch would ensure the Clinton email probe didn’t go too far.
Largely unreported by the news media, these questions surrounding Lynch are so serious that, in his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee this month, Comey conceded that the appointment of a special counsel in the Clinton email case would have been appropriate due to his concerns about Lynch.
Referring to Lynch’s directive for Comey to call the criminal email probe a “matter” as well as her private tarmac meeting with Bill Clinton, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn asked the ex-FBI chief the following pointed question:
And under Department of Justice and FBI norms, wouldn’t it have been appropriate for the attorney general, or, if she had recused herself — which she did not do — for the deputy attorney general to appoint a special counsel?
That’s essentially what’s happened now with Director Mueller. Would that have been an appropriate step in the Clinton e-mail investigation, in your opinion?
“Yes, certainly a possible step,” replied Comey. “Yes, sir.”
And in testimony in May, Comey expressed his concern that the “[Justice Department leadership could not credibly complete the investigation and declined prosecution without grievous damage to the American people’s confidence in the — in the justice system.”
In a tweet on Thursday, President Trump brought up the issue of possible “obstruction” with Lynch’s tarmac episode.
Crooked H destroyed phones w/ hammer, 'bleached' emails, & had husband meet w/AG days before she was cleared- & they talk about obstruction?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 15, 2017
The tarmac meeting was first reported by a local ABC affiliate in Phoenix, which asked Lynch about the incident at a pre-scheduled news conference at the Phoenix Police Department.
Lynch confirmed to ABC15 in Phoenix that she “did see President Clinton at the Phoenix airport as he was leaving and spoke to myself and my husband on the plane.”
The local station quoted sources saying the meeting lasted about thirty minutes.
Lynch claimed there was “no discussion of State Department emails” or any other matter pending before the Justice Department.
She maintained that the conversation was “a great deal about grandchildren, it was primarily social about our travels and he mentioned golf he played in Phoenix.”
The tarmac meeting was first revealed by ABC15’s Christopher Sign, who said that he was tipped off about the event by a “trusted source.”
Sign described a scene in which the FBI reportedly asked people at the tarmac not to take photographs.
“The FBI there on the tarmac instructed everybody: no photos, no pictures, no cell phones,” Sign stated.
The Obama White House postured to explain the meeting. Following the disclosure of the tarmac episode, President Obama’s press secretary, Josh Earnest, felt the need to iterate Obama’s stated commitment to avoiding “political interference” in Justice Department investigations.
Judicial Watch raised the possibility of ethical and legal problems for Lynch.
“Attorney General Lynch’s meeting with President Clinton creates the appearance of a violation of law, ethical standards and good judgment,” the conservative government watchdog group said in a statement:
Attorney General Lynch’s decision to breach the well-defined ethical standards of the Department of Justice and the American legal profession is an outrageous abuse of the public’s trust. Her conduct and statements undermine confidence in her ability to objectively investigate and prosecute possible violations of law associated with President Clinton and Secretary Clinton.
The New York Times in April first reported that the tarmac incident solidified Comey’s decision to go rogue, bypass the Justice Department and violate FBI tradition by holding a July 5, 2016, press conference to make conclusions on Clinton’s email case At the gripping press event, which took place in the heat of the presidential campaign, Comey criticized Clinton’s private email server as “extremely careless” before finally stating that “no charges are appropriate in this case.”
Comey was widely criticized for going rogue instead of failing to seek Lynch’s recusal on the Clinton case. His actions were cited in a letter from Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein recommending that Comey be fired.
In his Senate testimony this month, Comey confirmed Lynch’s tarmac meeting with Clinton “capped” his decision to make public the results of the FBI probe into Clinton’s emails.
Referring to the tarmac meet, Comey stated, “In an ultimately conclusive way, that’s the thing that capped it for me that I had to do something separately to protect the credibility of the investigation which meant both the FBI and the justice department.”
The statement that the tarmac meeting served as a cap to Comey’s decision to bypass Lynch’s Justice Department in the email investigation indicates Comey had other concerns about Lynch.
Indeed, in the same hearing, the next question posed to him by Republican Senator Richard Burr, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, focused precisely on that.
“Were there other things that contributed to that that you can describe in an open session?” asked Burr.
There were other things that contributed to that. One significant item I can’t. I know the committee’s been briefed on. There’s been public accounts of it which are nonsense. But I understand the committee has been briefed on the classified facts. The only other consideration I can talk about in an open session, she told me to call it matter, which confused me and concerned me. But that was one of the bricks in the load that led me to conclude I have to step away from the department if we’re to close this case credibly.
Comey’s “one significant item” seems to be a clear reference to the issue of a reported document allegedly indicating Lynch would interfere in the email probe to ensure it didn’t go too far.
Meanwhile, Comey’s admission that Lynch “told me to call it matter” — a directive that “confused” and “concerned” him — serves as a significant public accusation against Lynch, possibly highlighting her intentions in the email probe.
It is instrumental to recall that at the time, Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign not only referred to the criminal email probe as a “matter,” Clinton’s official campaign website claimed the investigation was not a criminal inquiry.
Lynch allegedly issued the “matter” directive to Comey despite the Justice Department knowing the FBI probe was not only an official investigation but a criminal probe.
In spite of Comey’s stated concerns, he did call the investigation a “matter” in his public statements about the Clinton email case.
The alleged Lynch directive was first revealed in the same extensive April 22 report in The New York Times.
The Times reported on a meeting between FBI and Justice officials at which, according to the newspaper’s characterization, “Lynch told him (Comey) to be even more circumspect: Do not even call it an investigation, she said, according to three people who attended the meeting. Call it a ‘matter.’”
The Times’ report continued:
Ms. Lynch reasoned that the word “investigation” would raise other questions: What charges were being investigated? Who was the target? But most important, she believed that the department should stick by its policy of not confirming investigations.
It was a by-the-book decision. But Mr. Comey and other F.B.I. officials regarded it as disingenuous in an investigation that was so widely known. And Mr. Comey was concerned that a Democratic attorney general was asking him to be misleading and line up his talking points with Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, according to people who spoke with him afterward.
As the meeting broke up, George Z. Toscas, a national security prosecutor, ribbed Mr. Comey. “I guess you’re the Federal Bureau of Matters now,” Mr. Toscas said, according to two people who were there.
Even though Comey reportedly had concerns about Lynch’s motivations, he went along and did not call it a criminal investigation.
“I am confident we have the resources and the personnel assigned to the matter,” Comey stated mere days after the meeting with Lynch.
Further raising questions about Lynch, in his Senate testimony this month, Comey lobbed a serious accusation about Lynch’s intentions in the ordeal (emphasis added):
And — and again, I don’t know whether it was intentional or not, but it gave the impression that the attorney general was looking to align the way we talked about our work with the way a political campaign was describing the same activity, which was inaccurate.
We had a criminal investigation open with — as I said before, the Federal Bureau of Investigation. We had an investigation open at the time, and so that gave me a queasy feeling.
Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), the top Democrat on the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, commented on the seriousness of the alleged Lynch “matter” directive, speaking this past Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.
“I would have a queasy feeling too, though, to be candid with you,” she told CNN about the issue. “I think we need to know more about that, and there’s only one way to know about it, and that’s to have the Judiciary Committee take a look at that.”
On Wednesday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) sent Feinstein a letter formally requesting that the committee probe any attempts to influence the FBI’s investigations under the Trump and Obama administrations. It is not immediately clear whether the Judiciary Committee has taken any action on the matter.
At a Tuesday press conference, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) stated that he wants to “hear what Loretta Lynch’s side of the story is” before making any move regarding Lynch.
However, at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) grilled Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard Downing about Lynch’s alleged “matter” directive.
“Mr. Comey testified that former AG Loretta Lynch told him to, when he discussed the Clinton investigation, to call it a matter not an investigation,” Jordan explained. “Do you agree with that decision that was made?”
Downing replied, “I don’t have an opinion one way or another on that.”
“Do you think it’s wise for the Justice Department to mislead the American people?” Jordan shot back.
“Of course, the Justice Department should do its best not to mislead anyone,” Downing retorted.
“I think what the American people would appreciate is their highest officials at the DOJ should be straight with the American people,” Jordan added during the course of the exchange. “And that did not happen.”
Alleged Lynch Document
The issue of a possible document implicating Lynch is shrouded in conflicting news media reports and testimony implying that the matter has been presented in closed session before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The alleged document was first reported by The New York Times in the same extensive April report on Comey. According to that report, the FBI possessed information that the alleged Lynch document had been hacked by Russian intelligence, leading Comey to fear that Moscow could leak the document to call into question the independence of the Clinton email probe.
The newspaper described “a document written by a Democratic operative that seemed — at least in the eyes of Mr. Comey and his aides — to raise questions about [Lynch’s] independence.”
The newspaper further described the reported document:
During Russia’s hacking campaign against the United States, intelligence agencies could peer, at times, into Russian networks and see what had been taken. Early last year, F.B.I. agents received a batch of hacked documents, and one caught their attention.
The document, which has been described as both a memo and an email, was written by a Democratic operative who expressed confidence that Ms. Lynch would keep the Clinton investigation from going too far, according to several former officials familiar with the document.
Read one way, it was standard Washington political chatter. Read another way, it suggested that a political operative might have insight into Ms. Lynch’s thinking.
While he was still FBI director, Comey was asked at a Senate hearing on FBI oversight in May about the about the purported Lynch document, and he refused to publicly address the matter, explaining it was an issue for a classified setting and not a public hearing.
After the issue of the purported document was raised at that hearing, the Washington Post released a story with an entirely different narrative on the alleged document. According to the Post report, the document — reportedly central to Comey’s actions on the Clinton email probe — was assessed by Comey’s own FBI to be unreliable and possibly fake.
Comey seems to have pushed back against the Post report when he stated in his testimony this month (also referred to earlier in this article):
One significant item I can’t. I know the committee’s been briefed on. There’s been public accounts of it which are nonsense. But I understand the committee has been briefed on the classified facts.
And Sen. Lindsay Graham, who would have been present for classified testimony on the Russia probe, has publically stated that he doubted the purported Lynch document was fake.
Regarding the Post’s story on the alleged document, Graham stated on Face the Nation: “I saw the Washington Post story. I doubt if it’s fake. Maybe it is. But I don’t want to be briefed by myself. I want Democrats and Republicans on the judiciary to be briefed together. Our committee has been together and we’re going to stay together.”
Graham further discussed the alleged document:
And I want Comey to come to our committee, because I know on two separate occasions, he has told members of the House and the Senate that the main reason he jumped into the election last year and took over the job of attorney general is because he believed there were emails between the Democratic National Committee and the Department of Justice that compromised the Department of Justice, and he thought the Russians were going to release these emails. That’s why he jumped in and took over Loretta Lynch’s job. I want to know, is that true?
According to the Post’s account, the document in question was not a note written by a Democratic operative about Lynch’s alleged loyalties to Clinton, as The Times reported. Instead, the Post claimed the memo was a “Russian intelligence document” that itself quoted secondhand from a purported email describing how Lynch told someone within the Clinton campaign that she would help to ensure that the Clinton email probe did not go too far.
The document, according to the Post, cited an email said to have been written by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), who at the time was chair of the Democratic National Committee. The alleged correspondence cited in the purported document was sent by Schultz to Leonard Benardo, who works at billionaire George Soros’s Open Society Foundations.
The Post reported that the alleged Russian intelligence document merely cited some of the contents of the supposed Wasserman Schultz email to Benardo but did not actually contain a copy of the alleged message.
According to the Post’s characterization of the alleged document, “Wasserman Schultz claimed Lynch had been in private communication with a senior Clinton campaign staffer named Amanda Renteria during the campaign. The document indicated Lynch had told Renteria that she would not let the FBI investigation into Clinton go too far, according to people familiar with it.”
Contacted by the Post, Wasserman Schultz and Benardo both said they do not know each other and never communicated.
Wasserman Schultz, Benardo, and Renteria told the Post that they were never interviewed by the FBI on the matter.
The Post claimed that the FBI provided Lynch with a “defensive briefing” on the alleged document in which she was reportedly cooperative, in contrast to a report from this week describing a very different kind of meeting with Lynch.
The Post reported:
About a month after Comey’s announcement, FBI officials asked to meet privately with the attorney general. At the meeting, they told Lynch about a foreign source suggesting she had told Renteria that Clinton did not have to worry about the email probe, because she would keep the FBI in check, according to people familiar with the matter.
“Just so you know, I don’t know this person and have never communicated with her,’’ Lynch told the FBI officials, according to a person familiar with the discussion. The FBI officials assured her the conversation was not a formal interview and said the document “didn’t have investigative value,’’ the person said.
Nevertheless, the officials said, they wanted to give the attorney general what is sometimes referred to as a “defensive briefing’’ — advising someone of a potential intelligence issue that could come up at some future point.
Adding further intrigue to the Lynch document issue, this week Circa cited “sources who were directly briefed on the matter,” revealing that Comey briefed Congress on a “frosty” exchange that he says he had with Lynch centering on the purported document.
Circa’s John Solomon and Sara A. Carter reported:
During the conversation, Comey told lawmakers he confronted Lynch with a highly sensitive piece of evidence, a communication between two political figures that suggested Lynch had agreed to put the kibosh on any prosecution of Clinton.
Comey said “the attorney general looked at the document then looked up with a steely silence that lasted for some time, then asked him if he had any other business with her and if not that he should leave her office,” said one source who was briefed.
Comey “took that interaction and the fact she had met with Bill Clinton as enough reason to decide he would not allow the Justice Department to decide the fate of the case and instead would go public” with his own assessment that the FBI could not prove Mrs. Clinton intended to violate the law when she transmitted classified information through her private email and therefore should not be criminally charged.
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.
With research by Joshua Klein.