During an exclusive interview with NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt, aired on the Monday evening newscast, President Obama’s former Attorney General Loretta Lynch recalled how reporters constantly asked her when she was going to “wrap up” the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation in the midst of the 2016 presidential campaign.
Holt began the exchange by wondering: “The timing of the Clinton investigation, in the middle of the presidential election, I know that shouldn’t color any decisions you make, but you certainly weren’t ignorant of it, were you?” Lynch replied: “Well, it’s all around you. You know, my favorite question from reporters, when they would say, ‘When are you gonna wrap this up?’ And they would also add, ‘Because she’s running for president, you know.’”
The Democrat then assured Holt that it had no bearing on her handling of the case: “And it’s part of the context of it but it cannot figure into the decisions that you make.”
The interview itself was straightforward and included many challenging questions to Lynch about her behavior during the investigation:
> Still, Loretta Lynch’s decisions on the Clinton e-mail investigation were questioned after she ran into former President Bill Clinton on an airport apron five months before the election....Did part of you go, “Oh, no, no, no, no, turn him around”?
> She says they made mostly small talk, nothing about Mr. Clinton’s wife and her e-mail server. Did you have any moment where you said, “Mr. President, this is probably not appropriate or this is gonna look bad”?
> In this hyperpartisan environment we’re in, did you ever once consider recusing yourself from the Clinton investigation?
During a preview of the exclusive on Monday’s Today show, another portion was shown of Holt pressing Lynch about receiving criticism from former FBI Director James Comey:
> James Comey was testifying before Congress, I think it was June of last year. And he noted that you had asked him to call the Clinton probe a “matter,” not an investigation. But he said it made him feel – I’m paraphrasing – it made him feel strange. He noted it. What did you mean when you said let’s call it a matter and not an investigation?
> But – so Comey says you want to call it the Clinton matter, he wants to call it the Clinton investigation. To the extent, though, that he noted it, that it bothered him, did he go to you and question your credibility with regard to the Clinton case?
Teasing the rest of the exchange, he noted: “We also of course talk about that infamous tarmac meeting when she met with President Clinton on the airplane in Phoenix.”
While it was to Holt’s credit that he was tough on Lynch now, NBC repeatedly downplayed or excused her airport meeting with Bill Clinton when it happened in June of 2016. The network certainly never labeled it “infamous” at the time.
On June 30, MSNBC anchor and NBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell dismissed any questions about the meeting as “conspiracy theories.” The next day, on July 1, Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd appeared on Morning Joe and rationalized the meeting as “happenstance.” On the Today show that same morning, then-political analyst Mark Halperin argued that Bill Clinton was just a “really social guy.” Reporting for NBC Nightly News that evening, Mitchell assured viewers: “Lynch saying it was social about golf, grandchildren and visits each had paid to former Attorney General Janet Reno who is ailing.”
Interesting that Lynch only gets grilled about the suspicious encounter nearly two years later, not in 2016, when it was most relevant and necessary.
Here is a full transcript of Holt’s interview with Lynch on the April 9 Nightly News:
7:11 PM ET
LESTER HOLT: Alright, we’re going to take a turn here and turn to an NBC News exclusive. Former Obama U.S. Attorney General Loretta lynch is speaking out for the first time since leaving the job. It was under her watch that the FBI investigation was launched in the Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server while she was secretary of state. A case that took unexpected turns and made Lynch a political lightning rod for Republicans before the election. I met up with her in Manhattan.
The timing of the Clinton investigation, in the middle of the presidential election, I know that shouldn’t color any decisions you make, but you certainly weren’t ignorant of it, were you?
LORETTA LYNCH: Well, it’s all around you. You know, my favorite question from reporters, when they would say, “When are you gonna wrap this up?” And they would also add, “Because she’s running for president, you know.” And it’s part of the context of it but it cannot figure into the decisions that you make.
HOLT: Still, Loretta Lynch’s decisions on the Clinton e-mail investigation were questioned after she ran into former President Bill Clinton on an airport apron five months before the election.
LYNCH: It was still 107 degrees outside and I was told that he wanted to come on the plane and say hello.
HOLT: Did part of you go, “Oh, no, no, no, no, turn him around”?
LYNCH: You know, at first, my thought was, you know, I speak to people all the time. People in public life, people not in public life, ordinary citizens –
HOLT: Right, but his wife was under investigation by the Justice Department.
She says they made mostly small talk, nothing about Mr. Clinton’s wife and her e-mail server. Did you have any moment where you said, “Mr. President, this is probably not appropriate or this is gonna look bad”?
LYNCH: Well, I will say that in the course of the conversation, we spoke and it seemed like we were going to say “Hello, hi, how are you?” and move on. And then the conversation would continue.
HOLT: In this hyperpartisan environment we’re in, did you ever once consider recusing yourself from the Clinton investigation?
LYNCH: Well, that’s always an issue. As I said at the time, I knew it was going to raise questions in people’s minds. So what you do is you always consult the legal experts. You always get a legal answer as to whether or not recusal is required. And had it been, then that’s what I would have done.
HOLT: Instead, she announced she would abide by whatever decision career prosecutors made in the case. And so, she admits she was surprised when FBI Director James Comey made this announcement.
JAMES COMEY [JULY 5, 2016]: In looking back at our investigations into the mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts.
HOLT: Rod Rosenstein wrote in his memo recommending Comey’s dismissal that,“He was wrong to usurp the Attorney General’s authority on July 5, 2016 and announce his conclusion that the case,” the Clinton case, “should be closed without prosecution.” Was Comey wrong? Did he usurp your authority?
LYNCH: Well, it certainly was an unusual move. It was a different way to deliver a recommendation to the attorney general. I have not had any of my other law enforcement agencies deliver a recommendation in a case to me in that way before.
HOLT: Unusual, but it was either right or wrong. Was it right or wrong?
LYNCH: Well, you know, I think he’s gonna have to speak to why he took those actions.
HOLT: What was your reaction when you heard Comey had been fired?
LYNCH: Well, you know, I was – I think I was as surprised as any American. You know, I don’t know the circumstances behind it.
HOLT: Did you at any point wish he had been fired?
LYNCH: No, I think the FBI director, as well as the other leaders of the law enforcement agencies of the department carried out their tremendous responsibilities under a great deal of pressure.
HOLT: The FBI investigation into possible ties between Russia and the Trump campaign also began under Lynch’s time as attorney general. She sites the ongoing Mueller investigation as reason for not speaking in detail about it, but she did defend the actions and the integrity of the FBI in its handling of the case.