WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General Loretta Lynch steadfastly defended her decision to close the Hillary Clinton email investigation without criminal charges, insisting Tuesday that she simply accepted the unanimous recommendation of career FBI investigators and attorneys.
“I saw no reason not to accept it,” Lynch told the House Judiciary Committee. “We looked at the facts, they were applied, and a conclusion was come to that was consistent with the law and those facts and I accepted that recommendation.”
But Republicans on the panel strenuously criticized Lynch over her decision. Introducing a new critique into the debate over the Justice Department investigation of Clinton’s emails, they suggested Lynch was wrong to announce ahead of time that she would be accepting the investigative team’s guidance for the former secretary of state and Democratic presidential candidate.
That approach “does not seem to be a responsible way to uphold your constitutionally sworn oath,” said the panel’s chairman, GOP Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia.
“You are the chief law enforcement officer of the United States, and the final decision regarding the prosecution is yours,” Goodlatte said.
Lynch reiterated that her announcement that she would be taking the FBI’s recommendation was an attempt to remove the specter of political interference from the case, after a chance meeting with former president Bill Clinton last month raised a perception problem. But Republicans suggested that Lynch, a Democratic political appointee, only worsened the perception that Hillary Clinton was getting special treatment.
“I think your actions made it worse, I really do,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio.
The election-year hearing played out amid a roiling national debate over police violence, and committee Democrats repeatedly tried to turn the conversation to that issue and others as they criticized Republicans for dwelling on the Democrats’ likely presidential nominee and her email practices.
Republicans were furious last week that the FBI decided not to recommend charges against Clinton over her handling of classified information when she relied on a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state.
“Rome is burning, there is blood on the streets of many American cities and we are beating this email horse to death,” said Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La.
But Republicans kept the focus on Clinton, trying to draw Lynch out on whether Clinton lied to the public or to Congress, and on a couple of occasions turning the conversation to then-president Bill Clinton’s impeachment proceedings 18 years ago.
“Are you aware that Hillary Clinton has repeatedly lied to the public about her emails and email servers?” Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, asked. “Are you aware of that?”
Republicans on Monday formally asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Clinton perjured herself in earlier testimony to a congressional committee investigating the Benghazi, Libya, attacks that killed four Americans while Clinton was secretary of state. Clinton has said she did not send or receive emails marked classified when she sent them, claims that FBI Director James Comey contradicted last week.
Comey also said Clinton was “extremely careless” in her handling of classified emails on a private server, but said there was no evidence that she or her aides intended to violate laws governing classified actions, and therefore no reasonable prosecutor could bring a case. Comey testified in detail in his own appearance before Congress last week, and Lynch repeatedly referred Republicans to the FBI director’s testimony, refusing to get drawn into debating Clinton’s conduct or the facts of the case.
That approach irritated committee Republicans. At one point Goodlatte interrupted the hearing to admonish Lynch for refusing to answer, accusing her of an “abdication of your responsibility.”
Lynch did say, in response to questioning from Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, that she had never discussed Clinton’s email practices with either Hillary or Bill Clinton, and she also said she had not discussed with either of them a position in the Hillary Clinton administration. “No conversation in that nature at all,” she said.
She reiterated that her encounter with Bill Clinton at the Phoenix airport last month, after he saw her airplane and asked to board to greet her, was social in nature and “there was nothing about any investigations or any specific cases.” Instead the former president spoke “at length” about his grandchildren, Lynch said.
Goodlatte questioned why Lynch hadn’t recused herself after that meeting. Lynch said there was no need to.
Lynch touched on law enforcement and policing issues including last week’s sniper shooting of five police officers in Dallas by a suspect who said he wanted to kill white officers. That followed police killings of black men near St. Paul, Minnesota, and in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
The nation’s “sense of safety has been shaken by the series of devastating events that rocked our nation last week,” Lynch said.
Follow Eric Tucker on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/etuckerAP