US Attorney General Loretta Lynch pledged Friday to respect FBI and prosecutors’ decisions on whether to charge presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton over her use of personal email while at the State Department.
Lynch was forced to make the announcement after she held an impromptu meeting with former president Bill Clinton at the airport in Phoenix, Arizona this week and touched off a political firestorm.
The top US law enforcement official admitted that the private encounter had “cast a shadow” over the investigation into Clinton’s emails in the runup to the November general election.
But Lynch insisted that she, as a political appointee, will not overrule investigators or otherwise interfere in the legal process regarding the probe, and that the integrity of the Justice Department will be upheld.
“The recommendations will be reviewed by career supervisors in the Department of Justice and in the FBI, and by the FBI director,” Lynch told a conference in Colorado.
“And then as is the common process, they present it to me, and I fully expect to accept their recommendations.”
Republicans have argued for days that the encounter compromised the integrity of the investigation.
“If this isn’t a conflict of interest, then we don’t know what is,” the Republican National Committee said on Twitter regarding the tarmac meeting, even before Lynch had finished her remarks.
Lynch said her meeting with former president Clinton “does not have a bearing on how this matter is going to be reviewed, resolved and accepted by me.”
‘Career agents’ deciding case
The case “will be resolved by the team that’s been working on it from the beginning … career agents and investigators” at the Justice Department, Lynch said.
She acknowledged that it was “perfectly reasonable” for people to question the encounter.
“I understand how people view it,” Lynch told a moderator during a session at the Aspen Ideas Festival.
“I certainly wouldn’t do it again, because I think it has cast a shadow” over the investigation.
Lynch stopped short of recusing herself, saying she will still be briefed on the case.
“This raises even more questions about potential political pressure, interference and bias,” Clinton’s Republican rival Donald Trump’s campaign said in a statement.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said: “This is something that is being handled completely independent of the president and completely independent of the White House.”
While both Clinton and Lynch have said the meeting was a chance encounter and that they exchanged pleasantries and did not discuss pending cases, Republicans have cried foul.
They argue the meeting compromised the independence of an investigation that could have profound election ramifications, and offered yet another signal that the Clintons — in the US political spotlight for decades — believe the rules do not apply to them.
Several Republicans have called for a special prosecutor to handle the investigation.
Lynch was appointed to her post by President Barack Obama, who himself has endorsed Clinton for president and is scheduled to campaign with her on Tuesday.
Hillary Clinton, aiming to become the nation’s first female commander-in-chief, has apologized for exclusively using a private email account and her own server during her time as secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.
Opponents argue that this breached rules about protecting classified documents from cyber attack and may have amounted to a crime.
The scandal has dogged her campaign for more than a year and has fueled voter concerns that she is not trustworthy.
Trump unleashed a tirade against his presidential rival on Friday, accusing Hillary of having “initiated and demanded” her husband’s meeting with Lynch.
“Bill Clinton’s meeting was a total secret. Nobody was to know about it but he was caught by a local reporter,” Trump posted on Twitter.
“The system is totally rigged. Does anybody really believe that meeting was just a coincidence?”
Bill Clinton has known Lynch for years. He nominated her in 1999 to serve as US attorney for the eastern district of New York.