Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Sunday said she “regretted” her controversial tarmac meeting with former President Bill Clinton this summer while the FBI was still investigating Hillary Clinton’s use of a secret server for her emails during her tenure as secretary of state.
While Lynch has never portrayed the June 27 Phoenix meeting as anything other than a cordial encounter, the lengthy tete-a-tete onboard Lynch’s plane immediately raised questions about whether she – or the Justice Department – could be impartial in the Hillary Clinton investigation. Just days later, FBI Director James Comey called Hillary Clinton’s actions “extremely careless” but declined to recommend charges.
“I wish I had seen around that corner and not had that discussion with the former president, as innocuous as it was, because it did give people concern,” Lynch said on “State of the Union.” “It did make people wonder, ‘Is it going to affect the investigation that’s going on?’ and that’s not something that was an unreasonable question for anyone to ask.”
Asked why Clinton sought out the meeting with Lynch, the outgoing attorney general declined to speculate.
“Well, I can’t say what President Clinton saw or thought because I wasn’t in communication with him before that,” Lynch said. “I don’t know what was in his mind.”
Lynch played off the length of the conversation – reported to be around 45 minutes – as being a by-product of Clinton’s loquaciousness. She joked with host Jake Tapper that Clinton “is a talker.”
“And our conversation went on a lot longer certainly than I had anticipated, because it was just going to be ‘Hello, how are you?’ and everyone was just going to go on about their evening,” Lynch said.
But Lynch acknowledged the perception created by the private summit was a problem. Republicans frequently brought up the meeting and President-elect Donald Trump made it a staple of his stump speech as the November presidential election approached.
“I do regret sitting down and having a conversation with him because it did give people concern,” Lynch said. “And as I said, my greatest concern has always been making sure people understand the Department of Justice works in a way that’s independent and looks at everybody equally. And when you do something that gives people a reason to think differently, that’s a problem. It’s a problem for me. It was painful for me.”
Three days after the meetings, amid mounting questions, Lynch tried to take herself out of the equation, saying on July 1 that she would accept whatever recommendation career prosecutors and Comey made regarding bringing charges.