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Attorney General Loretta Lynch acknowledged Friday that her private meeting with Bill Clinton has “cast a shadow” over an FBI-led investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server and said she plans to accept investigators’ final recommendations. However she will not recuse herself from the case.
The FBI is investigating the private server Hillary Clinton used while Secretary of State and whether Clinton or her aides broke any laws in their handling of classified information. Lynch said a team of career members of the Justice Department and FBI will present her with recommendations on how to proceed once the investigation has concluded and that she plans to accept the guidance.
Lynch, who appeared Friday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, said she had decided to accept whatever recommendation she receives well before Monday’s impromptu meeting with Clinton’s husband at an airport in Phoenix, Arizona, which raised questions about the integrity of the inquiry.
Lynch reiterated multiple times during the discussion that she will not play a role in determining the findings of the investigation and gave no indication of when it may conclude.
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Lynch called it “a social meeting” with Bill Clinton, but said she “certainly wouldn’t do it again” during a question-and-answer session with the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart.
“No matter how I viewed it, I understand how people view it,” Lynch said. “And I think that because of that, and because of the fact that it has now cast a shadow over how this case may be perceived, no matter how it is resolved, it is important to talk about how it will be resolved.”
It is rare for an attorney general to speak publicly about an ongoing investigation, but Lynch has been under fire from both sides of the aisle for holding the 30-minute meeting with the husband of the husband of a potential target of investigation
“That meeting with President Clinton does not have a bearing on how this matter is going to be reviewed, resolved and accepted by me,” Lynch said.
David Axelrod, a former chief strategist to President Obama, wrote on Twitter that he believes Lynch and Clinton didn't discuss the probe but that it was still "foolish to create such optics."
Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware echoed that sentiment on CNN's "New Day," saying "I don't think it sends the right signal. I think she should have steered clear even of a brief, casual social meeting with the former president." He noted the attorney general typically uses "excellent judgment."
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas tweeted on Thursday, "An attorney cannot represent two parties in a dispute and must avoid even the appearance of conflict." And presumed Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump skewered the meeting, telling radio host Mike Gallagher, "I think it's so terrible. I think it's so horrible" and that it was proof the system is "rigged."
Majority Whip Steve Scalise went as far as to argue Lynch should recuse herself from the Clinton investigation and hire a special prosecutor. The Louisiana lawmaker said in a statement so "the American people can know the truth about this secret meeting and finally rest assured the criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton is being conducted fully and impartially, without even the appearance of corruption."
The White House downplayed the criticism. Spokesman Josh Earnest was grilled by reporters on Thursday about the meeting. "Both the president and the attorney general understand how important is it for the Justice Department to conduct investigations that are free of political interference," he said, adding that it has been a "bedrock principle since our country's founding."