Law & the Courts

Loretta Lynch Claps Back at James Comey

FBI director James Comey with attorney general Loretta Lynch (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Former FBI Director James Comey traded barbs with key players from both sides of the aisle this week as his explosive new book hit the shelves.

While most of Comey’s hits were aimed at the president, former Attorney General Loretta Lynch was particularly upset about his portrayal of a September 2015 meeting he had with her.

The fired FBI chief wrote that Lynch ordered him to water down the rhetoric surrounding the Clinton email investigation and call it a “matter,” the language the Clinton campaign was using.

“I have known James Comey almost 30 years,” Lynch wrote in a Sunday statement. “Throughout his time as director we spoke regularly about some of the most sensitive issues in law enforcement and national security. If he had any concerns regarding the email investigation, classified or not, he had ample opportunities to raise them with me both privately and in meetings. He never did.”

“The attorney general seemed to be directing me to align with the Clinton campaign strategy. Her ‘just do it’ response to my question indicated that she had no legal or procedural justification for her request, at least not one grounded in our practices or traditions. Otherwise, I assume, she would have said so,” Comey writes in “A Higher Loyalty.”

Fellow FBI employees who heard Lynch’s request agreed with Comey that her motivation was political, he claimed, one even making a light-hearted crack about the attorney general’s comment.

“I know the FBI attendees at our meeting saw her request as overtly political when we talked about it afterward. So did at least one of Lynch’s senior leaders. George Toscas, then the number-three person in the department’s National Security Division and someone I liked, smiled at the FBI team as we filed out, saying sarcastically, ‘Well you are the Federal Bureau of Matters,’” Comey says.

Lynch, however, rejects this narrative, saying she recommended the language of “matter” rather than “investigation” in order to preserve the confidentiality of the FBI’s work.

“The Justice Department’s handling of the Clinton email investigation under my leadership … was led by a team of non-partisan career prosecutors whose integrity cannot be overstated and whom I trusted to assess the facts and make a recommendation — one that I ultimately accepted because I thought the evidence and law warranted it,” Lynch said.

“Everyone who works for the Department of Justice has an obligation to protect the confidentiality and integrity of the work of the Department,” she continued. “That is why, at the critical early stages of this case, I followed the Department’s long-standing policy of neither confirming nor denying the fact of an ongoing investigation. This policy both predates my tenure in the department and will live on long after the current debate is over. It neither misleads nor misinforms, but instead both protects investigations and guarantees equal treatment of those under scrutiny, whether well-known or unknown. Any suggestion that I invoked this bedrock policy for any other reason is simply false.”

Lynch also denied discussing the investigation with Clinton campaign operatives despite the infamous tarmac meeting with Bill Clinton that Lynch has downplayed as “small talk.” Critics worried Clinton could have influenced Lynch during the private meeting with regard to his wife’s email investigation.

“Throughout the process I did what I always do: rise above politics and uphold the law. At no time did I ever discuss any aspect of the investigation with anyone from the Clinton campaign or the DNC,” Lynch said.

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