WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/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 accepted that recommendation. I saw no reason not to accept it,” Lynch told the House Judiciary Committee. “The matter was handled like any other matter.”
The panel’s chairman, GOP Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, strenuously criticized Lynch over her decision, charging that it “does not seem to be a responsible way to uphold your constitutionally sworn oath.”
“Secretary Clinton’s ‘extreme carelessness’ possibly jeopardized the safety and security of our citizens and nation,” Goodlatte said. “Her ‘extreme carelessness’ suggests she cannot be trusted with the nation’s most sensitive secrets if she is nevertheless elected president.”
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 for government business during her tenure as secretary of state.
“We’re beating a dead horse here for political reasons,” said Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California.
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?” asked GOP Rep. Steve King of Iowa. “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 accused Clinton of “extreme carelessness” 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.
“And while I understand that this investigation has generated significant public interest, as attorney general it would inappropriate for me to comment further on the underlining facts of the investigation or the legal basis for the team’s recommendation,” she said.
That approach irritated committee Republicans. Frustrated with her responses, Goodlatte admonished Lynch for an abdication of her responsibility. After failing to get Lynch to answer his questions, Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona remarked on “your prodigious dissimulation skills” before withdrawing further questions.
Lynch did say, in response to questioning from GOP Rep. Lamar Smith of 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 a brief conversation she had with Bill Clinton at the Phoenix airport last month, after he saw her airplane and asked to board to say “hi,” was social in nature and “there was nothing about any investigations or any specific cases.”
Goodlatte questioned why Lynch hadn’t recused herself after that meeting. Lynch said there was no need to.
Lynch previously has acknowledged the meeting had “cast a shadow” on the public perception of the Justice Department’s independence, and that was when she announced she would accept whatever recommendation the FBI and her prosecutors presented on Clinton.
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 other topics as they criticized Republicans for dwelling on the Democrats’ likely presidential nominee and her email practices.
In her opening statement, Lynch touched on law enforcement and policing issues including last week’s shooting of five police officers in Dallas by a suspect who said he wanted to kill white officers.
“As we gather here this morning, that sense of safety has been shaken by the series of devastating events that rocked our nation last week,” Lynch said.
Lynch, who was sworn in as attorney general on the same day as racially tinged riots occurred in Baltimore, has repeatedly said that one of her top priorities in office is to improve relationships between police and the communities they serve.
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