US attorney general Loretta Lynch said Friday she will abide by decisions of the FBI and prosecutors on whether to bring charges over presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton’s use of personal email while at the State Department.
The announcement by Lynch was pushed to the fore after her impromptu meeting with former president Bill Clinton at the Phoenix, Arizona airport this week touched off a political firestorm.
In a noteworthy admission, the top US law enforcement official recognized the private encounter has “cast a shadow” over the investigation into Clinton’s emails in the runup to the November general election.
But Lynch appeared eager to make clear that she, as a political appointee, will not interfere in the legal process regarding the probe, and that the integrity of the Justice Department will be upheld.
“The recommendations will be reviewed by career supervisors in the Department of Justice and in the FBI, and by the FBI director,” Lynch said at a conference in Colorado.
“And then as is the common process, they present it to me, and I fully expect to accept their recommendations.”
Republicans have argued for days that the encounter compromised the integrity of the investigation.
“If this isn’t a conflict of interest, then we don’t know what is,” the Republican National Committee said on Twitter regarding the tarmac meeting, even before Lynch had finished her remarks.
Lynch said that “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.”
‘Career agents’ deciding case
The case “will be resolved by the team that’s been working on it from the beginning,” people she described as “career agents and investigators” at the Justice Department, Lynch said.
In an act of conciliation, she acknowledged the poor optics of the meeting.
“I understand how people view it,” Lynch told a moderator during a session at the Aspen Ideas Festival.
“I certainly wouldn’t do it again, because I think it has cast a shadow” over the investigation, she added.
Lynch was appointed to her post by President Barack Obama, who himself has publicly endorsed Clinton for president and is scheduled to campaign with her on Tuesday.
Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee who is aiming to become the nation’s first female commander-in-chief, has acknowledged and apologized for exclusively using a private email account and homebrew server during her time as secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.
But the scandal has dogged her campaign for more than a year and has contributed to voter concerns that she is not trustworthy.
Bill Clinton has known Lynch for years. He nominated her in 1999 to serve as US attorney for the eastern district of New York.
While both Clinton and Lynch have said the meeting was a chance encounter and that they exchanged pleasantries and did not talk about any pending cases or investigations, Republicans have cried foul.
They argue the meeting compromised the independence of a crucial investigation that could have severe election ramifications, and offered yet another signal that the Clintons -- in the US political spotlight for three decades -- believe the rules do not apply to them.
Trump unleashed a tirade against Clinton over the issue on Friday, accusing Hillary of having “initiated and demanded” her husband’s meeting with Lynch.
“Bill Clinton’s meeting was a total secret. Nobody was to know about it but he was caught by a local reporter,” Trump posted to his 9.4 million Twitter followers.
“The system is totally rigged,” he added. “Does anybody really believe that meeting was just a coincidence?”